WEST RIVER VALLEY -- For many Vermonters, Aug. 28-29, 2011 are days that will live in their memories for perhaps the rest of their lives.
Sections of the state -- and several towns in the south in particular -- were ravaged by Tropical Storm Irene causing unprecedented damage to homes, infrastructure and even the topography of the Vermont landscape.
But like many natural disasters, the impact that Irene left in its wake were far more wide reaching than the immediate damage.
It is now almost three years later and some businesses throughout the region -- the ones that remain anyhow -- are struggling to survive as fewer tourists have been coming to the region. With that in mind, a group formed about a year and a half ago with the intent of trying to bring people back to the region and on Saturday, May 31, it will be holding a familiarization tour of the West River Valley.
"The one thing that came out of it was we need to have a public awareness of how wonderful the West River Valley is," said Robert DuGrenier, one of the organizers. "We met regularly, monthly, and came up with this idea of the Fam Tour."
The lack of familiarity with things to do in the West River Valley is something that the group is aiming to solve. Lynn Barrett, the final speaker on the tour who owns a public relations firm and worked on a regional marketing campaign in Vermont nearly a decade ago, said she plans to focus in part on various experiences a person may be able to have throughout the region.
"One of the things I always say about southern Vermont is you just go 20 miles and you have a whole new experience. Each little town has its own character and personality and one is very different from the other," she said. "If you look at Newfane versus Townshend versus Grafton versus South Newfane they all have their own unique character. You could actually come here and spend a weekend, or even a week, going from place to place and having a whole new experience.
The tour -- which will begin and end in Brattleboro -- will stop in the towns of Bondville, Dummerston, Jamaica, Londonderry, Stratton, Windham, and Winhall.
"We tried to get representation from every town to send in a list of what is called the Little Gem Tour, what their little gems were," said DuGrenier. "We didn't have very long to put this together and the May 31st tour is kind of dry run for us. We hope to do it in a bigger way at the end of August and really pack a luxurious bus with press from Boston and New York, not just the local press. Some of the stops are great little gems It's really going to give them an insider's look at how special this community is."
Though a second tour has been planned for sometime in August, DuGrenier said they would need to raise funds to have the tours continue.
In order for the tours to have a positive impact on businesses though, Barrett said that several of them would have to take place.
"I think you can't just do it once," said Barrett. "It's something that needs follow up. I'm a big believer in public relations and having a constant barage of press releases going out to media, inviting people in on a regular basis. I think it's not going to happen over night, but I think this is a very good beginning."
The group is also working with Jeff Nugent from the Windham Regional Commission who has recently created a map of the West River Valley.
"We're working with him hopefully to add interesting little gems and historic monuments and documents up the West River Valley," said DuGrenier. "So, he's got that whole infrastructure done and he can customize maps now for us, which would be really, really great."
The first stop on the tour -- which will take place from 9:30-10:30 a.m. -- will be Fulcrum where there will be a glass blowing demonstration, pottery throwing, coffee sampling of Sapling liqueur. From there it's on to Newfane Village with a stop at the green where there will be a tour of the Windham County Courthouse and Newfane Historical Society. The group will then travel up the road to Townshend to tour Robert DuGrenier Art Glass Gallery & Blowing Studio before touring Big Picture Farm Goat Caramels located next to the Townshend Common.
West Townshend Country Store is the next stop where there will be a pizza lunch from 12:10 to 12:45. After lunch attendees will tour Windham Hill Garden Fair before moving on to take a short hike to the top of Hamilton Falls. From there the group will travel to Taylor Farm in Londonderry where they will tour the farm and sample cheeses before traveling to Stratton Mountain Golf Course for a golf technique demonstration. From there they will go to the Elaine Beckwith Gallery in Jamaica. The tour is expected to conclude shortly before 5 p.m. with Barrett speaking to the group and giving highlights about each of the aforementioned towns as they travel along Route back to Brattleboro.