Autumn in the North Cemetery.

Sixty miles west of Boston, Massachusetts there is the small New England town of Sturbridge. Located at the junction of I-90 (The Mass Pike), and I-84 it has become known as the "Crossroads of New England". The town was first settled over 300 years ago, and like other small New England towns it has grown just enough over the years to be in a difficult place today. How do we embrace the future without forgetting how we got to our present? How do we attract the right kind of growth, and maintain who we are? And, what about our culture out here in Central Massachusetts?

These pages will cause one to think about how to protect what we have, our future direction, and how to move on in the very best way.

Those thoughts, and other ramblings, will hopefully inspire more thought, conversation, action, and occasionally a smile...

...seems to be working so far

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Sturbridge Top Ten List

A few years ago the Town of Sturbridge ran a survey on its homepage asking questions about traffic safety, where the best location in town would be for industrial development, retail development and such. I don't know just how their survey turned out. I do know I answered the questions, and today I am curious as to just how the data is being used. Are there any plans in place to use the information obtained, or was the information obtained in the survey just used to reinforce an agenda already set? Either way, it would be nice to know.

I don't expect a town official to come on these pages to offer a few words about it. It would be great if they did, but they have enough to do. What I'd like to do is offer up some of my thoughts on the subject, and if you agree, or even if you disagree, then forward the post off to a town official.

My job here is to vent the steam from this head of mine. Steam not from frustration, or anger, but from plain thinking too much. It has to come out somewhere. Might as well capture that steam, and let it flow through the keyboard.

That being said, allow me to "vent". Below is my Ten Most Needed Things to be Done in Town List. The list is a random collection of ideas, some reflective of that survey taken by the Town, but mostly just thoughts.

The List:

10) Cut down some the trees on the north side of Route 20 at the intersection of Route 131 to allow residents and visitors a view of the Cedar Lake. Currently it is hidden in the pines, and it's a shame.

9) Allow for more, and better parking at the Conservation area trail heads. The conservation area on Stallion Hill Road has barely enough room for one compact car to park, and there is no safe parking on the street. I don't think any salamanders will be affected, and if there is a concern, I will personally go there and move them all by hand myself. Bottom line is, if you are going to spend the money to buy and conserve an area, and then mark it with a sign, you must allow parking. It's a no brainer.

8) More mini-parks in Town. I know the town has this on their minds , too. The recent mini-park established by the town and the Rotarians at the corner of Cedar Street and Route 20 is an excellent example of this, as is the little park beside the Mill in Fiskdale. How about the land on the other side of the Mill? It sits high over the Mill Pond and falls of the Quinebaug River and has a good amount of land for parking, picnic tables and benches for staring off into space from, too. Or how about a nice trail to the river from Main Street? At the river, clear a small area, and plop down some picnic tables. A nice Scenic Byway for those that walk Route 20 everyday. The reconstruction of the Memorials at the Center School on route 131 was another excellent example of making what we have that much better. Well done.

7) Traffic lights at both ends of Hall Road. One set at the intersection of Route 20, the other at the intersection of Route 131. The Route 131 intersection actually sees more traffic from those roads than where there is already a traffic light at the intersection Route 131 and Maple Street. This is a no brainer, as well.

6) Ban heavy truck (18 wheeler) traffic from Route 148 except for the trucks that "live" there, and those serving addresses on the road. The road is too narrow in places on the way to Route 9, and the speed they travel at is not the best. They seldom slow down in the school zone. Make the road a Scenic Road for passenger vehicles only, and redirect the truck traffic to Route 49. Route 49 is officially an "Expressway", meaning there are no driveways on the entire stretch of road from Route 20 to Route 9. One of the reasons it was built, was just for this reason. Truckers can "crank it" comfortably on this stretch of road.

5) Do something with the land south of the intersection of Route 20 and Route 148. Damn, its ugly, and the sad thing is, it has enormous possibilities, but just sits there--waiting to be sold. Waiting for someone to buy it. (hint, hint).

4) Give the Town of Sturbridge Historical Commission a place of their own. Jeesh. We're in Sturbridge for crying out loud. Have a nice place for them to meet, and display all the collected artifacts they have stuffed in closets all over town. When that happens, I'll contribute with some of the things I have squirreled away, too.

3) Pass a by-law that states ALL swimming pools in the Town, not only the in-ground pools, but above ground pools as well, must have a permanent fence surrounding them with a self closing and locking gate. And, as far as those new, inflatable 18 inch deep temporary pools go, well, if they are to remain filled with water overnight, or if there is a chance they will be filled with water when there is no supervision around, then they must have some secure temporary fence around them, too. Don't argue this one with me, talk amongst yourselves. I am told that there is a mandate to have a fence around an in ingrown pool listed somewhere, but I could not find it in the by laws.

2) Build a better boat ramp for Cedar Lake. The current one is almost impossible to access, and put a boat in the water from. A new ramp could be built at the recreation area, off to either side, and be safe not only for those at the beach, but for the boaters themselves.

And the number one, thing for the Town to do is:

1) Stop promoting the development of land along old Route 15 unless you are willing to supply town water and sewer to the area as well. What developer today is going to consider building a retail, or business area without those town services? Too much risk with sinking a well, and building huge septic systems. This is the 21st century, not 1962.

That being said, it is only logical for the next step to be building a water larger treatment facility. Face it, if you are going to encourage growth to add to the tax base, then you need to spend some money to make some money.

So, there is the list. Random, I know, but I am sure some of these things have crossed your mind as well. Now, your mission, if you decide to accept it, is to forward this post onto to others. Let them read it, and pass it on. It's fodder for thought, and thought encourages action.

Oh, and one more thing:

We need a freakin' movie theater in this town!

Sorry. That one just escaped.


  1. Great Top 10 list, or should I say top 11.

  2. Very god top 10 list. In regards to your movie theater wish. Ames has been empty for too long, why doesn't someone do like West Boylston. The WB super saver, $5/movie second run, 5 theaters just like the big ones only more small town size.

  3. Anything would be nice, Skippy. And, I agree, Ames has been vacnat for too long. It would make a great place for a theater.

  4. Dear Thinking: your top 10 would probably match that of several people in Sturbridge. I'm not a Sturbridge official, but I may be able to address some of your comments: 10) cutting down trees on the north side of Rte 20 is probably within the buffer zone of that swamp, which is part of the pond. Based on the trees that are there, they appear to have been planted (cherry trees?), perhaps when Rte 20 was widened to prevent erosion? The Conservation Commission and/or Tree Warden - that's where I would direct the question. As to the survey you speak of, I remember hearing talk of a random survey for the towns' Dialogue of the Future. I think that document is complete, and it might be on-line at the town's website, either on the Selectmen's page or the Town Administrator's page. If not, it should be there.

    9) The Public Lands Advisory Committee is working on the issue of trails on the towns' conservation properties. But for now, if you drive further up Stallion Hill to Leadmine Road, there is a new parking area on the left side which can park probably 4cars. This is a trailhead entrance to the newly purchased Old Sturbridge Village property. I'll forward a map to your gmail address and if you like, you can post it. At this trailhead, there is a map inside a kiosk, and there should be trailmaps as well. As for the Stallion Hill property, I suggest you e-mail the Conservation Commission with your comment as they are the owners of property you're talking about. Consider that conservation transactions take time and the town did several in a row (my experience is, this is the nature of conservation transactions - lands become available when they become available, you purchase them when you can, worrying about access later). Now that land is acquired, the town, using its limited volunteer resources does its best to create trailheads and trails, and parking areas. Committees have been appointed and volunteers are working on this issue. However, more people are needed to volunteer, so please, everyone, step up. Of course, there is Wells State Park, which has plenty of parking. Opacum Woods - a map is available at Boston Rd, 4th right onto Aubudon Way, 2nd left to Old Brook Circle, park at the trailhead, walk down the hill to the kiosk, find brochures and trailmaps. More information will follow as volunteers and money are available.

    8) Mini-parks are an excellent idea. Again - volunteers, come forward, join committees, bring your ideas, your tools, and strong backs. One comment about picnic tables: they need maintenance, trash needs to be picked up. Who's going to do it? It can be done, but urban parks -especially urban parks - need topnotch maintenance.

    7) Definitely a traffic light at Rte 131/Rte 20.

    6) Interesting. May be good discussion for the Sturbridge Planning Board?

    5) I'm not sure that property is for sale, is it? If you're referring to the old mill building, I think it would make a great conversion to apartments, elderly or affordable housing. Sturbridge has Community Preservation Funds available for such things, but it needs to be available for purchase.

    4) I've heard one idea, and that is to use the Center School (very appropriate)once it's renovated, 2nd floor, for that purpose. It has original glass and wooden bookcases that might make excellent display cases. It's near the Common; would make a wonderful stopover for tourists. Would you volunteer to be an on-site docent?

    3) I thought that was a state building code? Check MA Building Code.

    2) I prefer South Pond, so I'm not familiar with Cedar Lake boat ramp. Recreation Dept might be able to comment on this one.

    1) Development of Route 15, and water/sewer issue. Volatile; these two issues actually make enemies o people in town. I choose to keep my trap shut on this one for now.

    Movie theater at Ames - good idea. Let's see what happens with Rom's and if they sell...?

  5. Carol,

    Thanks for looking through the "Archives", we all appreciate your input. You've got more experience in thse things than I could ever have, but I am glad to know that my thinking is not too far off base.

    The trees I am seeing on the north side of 20 are pine. I can't help think of Lake Lashaway along Route 9 when I drive by Cedar Lake. A wonderful view could be had here, but I do understand erosion control as well, if that is what they are for.

    We've been to the new trail on Leadmine Road. I was not impressed with the parking. There is space for four vehicles, but once in there, if they can all get in at once, then they can't leave unless someone else moves. The kiosk should be replaced ASAP. I know, it was probably set up on the fly out of scrap wood, but it looks like heck. But at least an attmept at parking was made. The conservation down on Stallion Hill has no place to park.

    Maintenance of the mini parks should fall under the Recreation Department, with assistance of the DPW for now. As time goes on, a specific Parks Department should be formed. This is what Recreation Departments in small towns grow up to become when things in a town grow as well.

    The property at the corner of Route 20 and Holland Road has been for sale for some time. The signs, although they don't look like for sale signs, have been attached to the cahin link fence for sometime. It is also listed for sale under commercial properties online.

    I've heard the same thing, a few years ago, from Bob Briere and Charlie Blanchard. They thought the idea was great, and had been on the back burner for sometime, but so many things were in the way of it coming true. Now, with renovations in sight, it may become a reality. It would be an awesome stop for tourists. I often see them stopping at the Old Cemetery and wandering around onto the Common. A shop for "All things Sturbridge" would be a nice accent as well.

    Well, if pool fences are part of the state building code, then whose job is it to enforce it? The police? The building inspector? There are many above ground pools in town without fences, and the portable ones are a whole other story.

    I think you are being wise about Route 15, Carol. From me, well, I can say what I want, and what needs to be said. It will work out, I hope, all eyes are on them now.

    And, as far as Ames goes for a movie theater, that would be great, but for a theater to make some money it would have to have multiple screens, and Ames would only allow a few, small areas. Parking is also an issue. Route 15 looks like a good spot...And, we don't need a Multi-Mega-MammothPlex either. A small town theater would be nice, but big investors want the big bang, 20 screens, and cappuccino machines everywhere.

    Roms, if sold, will become a drugstore, like CVS, RiteAid, or Walgreens. Most likely a new RiteAid. I just have this feeling. But, even more important, where will Rom's go? We can't loose another business in town.

  6. Dear Thinking: Happy New Year to you, your family and all visitors to your blog:

    Just getting back to you on this: the Leadmine Rd trailhead and kiosk, if memory serves, were built so that people could start using the property as soon as possible. That was an initiative completed by the Public Lands Advisory Committee (PLAC). My sense is, what is there now will not serve as the final, permanent trailhead, but it's certainly better than nothing. The kiosk is temporary, also built by a volunteer so people who used the trailhead would at least have something to use. An additional, larger trailhead on Shattuck Rd or near that area will be built, and it will have more parking. The Public Lands Advisory Committee is charged with working on planning righteous trails and trailheads on all of Sturbridge's parcels, but they've started with the OSV parcel. All, or most of this work is done by volunteers with assistance from DPW. The thing I think most people don't understand is, Sturbridge isn't a city that has a paid recreation department. There is a recreation committee, but there is probably only one of them paid who may also work for other departments as well.

    Tom Chamberland is probably the guy to talk to about this. Tom is on the PLAC.

    About the commercial property: I have access to MLS and don't see a listing there. Perhaps you could send me a listing number?

    I'm not a building inspector, nor do I know MA building code in detail. When I have a specific question, I call a building inspector in the respective town. But what I see in my professional life is: inground pools typically have fencing around them, and I'm told MA building code requires that. So, I would think the building inspector should be the enforcement agent. Above ground pools usually do not having fencing...maybe the outside of the pool functions as built-in fencing sort of?

    Cinemas: Blackstone Shoppes in Millbury has 14 cinemas. Millbury has a population of roughly 14,000 people, and is a burb of the city of Worcester. Cinemas in Sturbridge: great idea - 14 of them? I don't think that many are necessary. But that's just my opinion without seeing demographics. Did you know that you can see movies at the Old Sturbridge Village Cinema?

    Happy 2008!

  7. Carol,

    Yes, I'm aware of the cinema at OSV. Haven't been there as of yet, but will this winter. Sounds like a great venue, especially for a small town. No, we don't need a megaplex, but a couple of screens with first run movies would serve the area nicely. However, only a couple of screens would not be a worthwhile investment for a corporation. So, I guess we are stuck with On Demand!

    Thanks for explaining the trail heads to me. I understand now. Just an aside, when the town web site posted a request for those interested in becoming a member of the PLAC I wrote to the town manager twice. No response. I also wrote to the town manager about other openings over the past few years. Nothing. I don't have a whole bunch of experience in some things, but I felt I could be helpful. In fact, I know I would be.

    I understand we aren't a city with a paid Parks Dept., but if we keep acquiring land, we will need people to maintain them other than volunteers. Just makes sense.

    Above ground pools need a fence as well as in ground pools. This can be fixed by local by law. My sister was five when she drowned in a neighbors above ground pool. No one around, just a curious five year old. I would like to see this throughout the Commonwealth, not just here.

    I will look again online to see if the property is still listed. It seems to be listed for a bit, then disappears. The signs on the fence list a telephone number.

  8. Dear Thinking, here's a tip: if you visit the OSV theatre, bring comfortable pillows for your backside.

    I don't think there's any argument from anyone about cinemas being located here. Truth be told though, I rarely go to cinema's...Netflix is excellent! Watch it on the plaz and there's no reason to pay to see a movie in full dress!

    About the open space: if it's an urban park, then yes, you need manpower for it. But if it's passive recreation such as hiking, bird-watching, nonmotorized biking, etc., volunteers can get that job that done. Why pay for it when it's easy enough to organize and mobilize volunteers? The properties acquired thus far are to be used for passive recreation, not active recreation. There's a huge hill of a difference in what kind of maintenance levels there are between the two types. I do know the recreation committee is seeking a place to build soccer fields...that of course will require more maintenance and dollars.

    About submitting your letter of interest for various committees - it's not the first time I've heard that. Don't take it personally, but at the same time, you might want to cc another body within town, such as the Committee volunteers to let them know you're interested.

    The buck stops at the Town Administrators office - he's the one responsible for appointing committee members. The selectmen can either approve or disapprove.

    Sorry to hear about the loss of your sister. Doesn't make sense to me that above ground pools don't have fences either. If you go to the Building Inspections Dept, they might be able to answer the question for you in detail.

    I really enjoy your blog. Thanks Thinking. Happy New Year.

  9. Carol,

    Thanks for the tip re: the pillows!

    And, thank you for the New Years wishes. Happy New Year to you as well.

    I think that as we grow in land that needs attending to that volunteers will still be needed, but a paid person to direct the volunteers, and to formulate plans, etc. would be needed.

    In time, I know, in time.

    Let's all get on the same page, and move forward. Seems we have a good many people thinking along the same line. Now is the time to capitalize on the interest!


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