Sturbridge may be referred to as the "Crossroads of New England" because of its location with the junction of Route 20, Route 84 and the Mass Pike, but the town itself is actually at a totally different crossroads. Seems everyone is asking, "Where do we go from here?".
For the past half a century the town has done quite well. We have kept ourselves small in population, but simultaneously served a large tourist population. Old Sturbridge Village, the re-created 1830's New England village, has done a wonderful job of luring generations of school children, their parents, and others to their gates. Those tourists walked the OSV grounds, and painlessly learned a great deal about old New England life. They stayed in motels around town, and spent their dollars at any one of a dozen or so antique and craft shops. They camped at one of the camp grounds in town, or rented a cottage on one of our lakes. We were doing fine.
Then came 9/11.
Traveling changed. The tourists numbers dropped, not just here, but nation wide. Tourism had already begun to slow prior to 9/11, but that date changed the market place forever. OSV took a financial hit. The area shops felt the drop as well, and many have closed up shop for good.
Now, OSV is recovering thanks good planning, strong leadership, money from the Commonwealth and selling off some of their unused land to the Town of Sturbridge. New life has been breathed into the Village, and they are learning to vie for a new type of tourist. This new tourist still wants what OSV has to offer, the crafts and antiques at local shops, and the fun on our lakes, but they want more. Problem is what they want is something we don't have -- yet.
Sturbridge has done a great job securing land in recent years for development in passive tourist attractions such as hiking paths, canoing, and horse back riding trails. Trouble is they are still in the planning stages. Nothing is ready, not even a firm plan.
Todays day tripper wants to take the family out and away from home to see things they don't see at home. Makes sense, right? Well, OSV does fit the bill, but what else can you do besides shop, and eat at one of the many restaurants in town? Not much.
Well, I have a plan. Once you read what I am thinking I want you to close your eyes and envision it. Feel free to tweak it. But, after you envision it, and if you like it, then don't offer a comment to me, instead, use the time instead to write the editor of one of our local newspapers, write to the Town Manager, and the Board of Selectmen. Talk it up at Holiday gatherings, and at the store. In other words, pass it on. The more it is discussed, and tweaked at the level of the resident, the more it will be anticipated. The more excitement will be generated. And, faster things will get accomplished.
That being said, here is what I've been thinking:
First of all, the land the town purchased from OSV this year should be multi-use. We need to go in and map out the site (already done), and decide just what we want these 800 acres to be for (partly done). We need to keep in mind that we are not only preserving an wonderful place, but making it useful for those of us living in town, and above all, attractive to those out of town! We can't just hack a few trails in the overgrowth and call a Preserve. Conservation land, preserves and open space are wonderful, but this must bring in people, and those people must bring their wallets. What can we offer? Well, walking trails are a start. Good ones, not rocky paths through the woods. The kind of trails that are flat, paved or compacted with stone dust and are easy to ride a bicycle on, push a stroller, or crank a wheelchair on. They have to be of different lengths, too.
We'll need good parking as well. No trail head type of parking. Real parking.
There are two bodies of water in these 800 acres. We need to use them as well. Imagine renting a canoe on a summers evening, or fishing in the early morning. Which leads me to the next thing it needs: coffee. More specifically, food. We need to build a restaurant , not too big, but one with a large covered porch to sit on in the morning and have a cup of coffee, or grab a sandwich after a long hike. Places with food always attract more people than places without it. Lease it out, and let it pay for itself.
Horses. Ever think of how many horses there are in Central Massachusetts? A bunch. That's an accurate estimate, too. Most live on farms, and at private homes, but what about those that don't have the land for a horse? They can always board them at a farm, but what if the Town built a stable on the 800 acres just for those that want board their horses, and ride the trails?
That's a start.
Tomorrow, I'll tell you what I've been thinking about Fiskdale.