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

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Small Town Service Excells

We are very fortunate here in town to have some excellent people that offer outstanding services. We sometimes never hear about them, unless it is word of mouth. Recently, I was in a quandary about an Ornamental Crab tree beside the house. It is about 40 feet tall and in the spring it is covered with little pink blossoms. The foliage is thick and gives a nice shaded area to that side of the house. When we bought the house in 2006 we noticed the leaves of the tree began to fall sometime in July, and within a few weeks about one half of the trees leaves were on the ground. I did some research and determined it could be from a fungus called Apple Scab. The following spring I sprayed the tree with a fungicide as directed on the bottle. The tree still lost its leaves.

What to do? I mentioned the problem to a friend of mine and she recommended an arborist. She gave me a few names in the area, and I called one on the list. He confirmed my suspicions, and set up a treatment plan of three sprayings of the tree. The last spray was yesterday.

Here is what impressed me about the man. He assessed the tree first before he came over to spray, confirmed my suspicions, and when he did arrive to do the spraying he removed the bird feeders and bird bath from the area and placed them behind the house. Not a bit deal moving the feeders, I know, but shows where his head is at, and I like that.

I met him for the first time when he arrived for the first spraying. He was dressed in a white disposable coverall with hood, goggles, and had a respirator mask dangling from around his neck. He looked like he should be in a Science Fiction movie. This is another thing that impressed me. If he cares about his own welfare chances are very good he cares about his work. I strongly recommend this professional for any tree needs you may have. Sometimes the best just comes out of the blue. Click on the link above, or at the bottom of the page for more information.

I won't know for sure if the spraying cured the problem for a few weeks, but the tree is looking very healthy now, and last year before the leaves began to fall I could see the early signs of a problem at this point. None of that happening at this time.

Another business in town I really like is MicKnucks. MicKnucks is a small grocery store, and deli in Fiskdale beside the Blackington Building. It is a no nonsense type of store that offers the essentials, and none of the things you don't need. They take pride in the freshness of their fruits and vegetables, and their deli section is excellent. They offer many custom sandwiches, salads, and such. The meat counter has the best fresh meat available. In one section of the store is a space dedicated to a bakery. This section operated by a baker and has great fresh baked goods offered every day. I am not a connoisseur of fine dining, or fine shopping, but I know what I like, and I like a clean place, fresh food, and staff that are happy in their work. Except for the daily paper, and occasionally a free sample from the bakery, there are no point of sale things offered at the register. This is a good thing. They don't need to make that last minute buck at the register. Their products sell them selves, and that's all they need to do.

These are just two of the businesses I have encountered here in town that offer great knowledgable service. there are many more, and over the summer I will mention them as well. I may even mention the ones that need a bit of improving as well.

Keep in mind, praise and criticism are both steps on the road to perfection.

For more information on the arborist mentioned above click here.
Photo above: The Crab Apple from a second story window.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Gone Way Too Far

Sometimes when we're roaming the internet we may stumble across a web site that is designed for a particular faction of society that we find appalling. Quite by accident we may come across a site that has multiple swastikas plastered on it with neo-nazi or white supremacist rhetoric. Nothing we can do about it, but click ourselves away. The symbol of hate, and death tears at our emotions, but the first amendment insures that they can speak freely.

Another symbol you may find in your wanderings is the Communist Hammer and Sickle. It was used by the now defunct Soviet Union since it's inception in 1917. Many other communist countries had a version of it either on their flags, statues, or other symbols of their country. Historically, it is a good thing to study the cultures of both symbols, to learn. The Nazi's were responsible for millions of military deaths, and civilian deaths during their reign from 1933 to 1945. Most of us understand, and associate that symbol with hate, and death. The Hammer and Sickle is also a symbol of death, and hatred. Millions of civilians died in the purges under the Soviet Unions Joseph Stalin who proudly flew that red flag with the hammer and sickle.

When either symbol is used in an historic context we can learn much about those times. Either symbol can be used in a way to frighten, humiliate, and defame.

There is little difference between spray painting a building with a swastika, or associating an individual with the hammer and sickle, or referring to a place as the Republic of Hooville set against a red communist flag. It shows that the offender has struck bottom, and is lashing out in the most horrendous and hateful ways. They are no longer able to make their point in a way that is acceptable to others.

It is not journalistic license. It is what it is, associating a place, and persons with a culture of hate and death for purposes of intimidation, and to incite others in their way of thinking. The technique is as old as man himself. It works, and that is why you still see the technique used today.

Far too many died in Korea, and in Viet Nam fighting to eliminate communism, and their symbols. My father, a Korean War veteran, died of injuries he received during that conflict. It is offensive to their memories that that symbol would now be used as a tool to offend fellow citizens.

When this despised symbol is used for self promotion and shock value, especially on this Memorial Day I see no humor in it. I then can not help but ask if those responsible have any sense of decency. It is obvious that they think nothing of defaming those we remember for the sake of political showmanship.

It has gone too far.

"Number of victims

Early researchers attempting to tally the number of people killed under Stalin's regime were forced to rely largely upon anecdotal evidence. Their estimates ranged from a low of 3 million to as high as 60 million.[61][62] When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 however, evidence from the Soviet archives finally became available. The archives record that about 800,000 prisoners were executed (for either political or criminal offences) under Stalin, while about 1.7 million died in the GULAG and some 389,000 perished during kulak forced resettlement — a total of about 3 million victims.

Debate continues, however,[63] since some historians believe the archival figures to be unreliable.[64][65] For example, some argue that the many suspects tortured to death while in "investigative custody" were likely not counted amongst the executed.[66][67] Also, there are certain categories of victim which it is generally agreed were carelessly recorded by the Soviets — such as the victims of ethnic deportations, or of German population transfer in the aftermath of WWII.

Thus while some archival researchers have estimated the number of victims of Stalin's repressions to be no more than about 4 million in total,[68][69][70] others believe the number to be considerably higher, with a "middle estimate" of 40 million.[71] Russian writer Vadim Erlikman,[72] for example, makes the following estimates: executions, 1.5 million; gulags, 5 million; deportations, 1.7 million (out of 7.5 million deported); and POWs and German civilians, 1 million — a total of about 9 million victims of repression.

Some historians have also included the 6 to 8 million victims of the 1932–1933 famine as victims of repression.[73][74][75] This categorization is controversial however, as historians differ as to whether the famine was a deliberate part of the campaign of repression against kulaks or simply an unintended consequence of the struggle over forced collectivization. (See also: Droughts and famines in Russia and the USSR).

Regardless, it appears that a minimum of around 10 million surplus deaths (4 million by repression and 6 million from famine) are attributable to the regime, with a number of recent books suggesting a likely total of around 20 million.[76][77][78][79][80] Adding 6–8 million famine victims to Erlikman's estimates above, for example, would yield a total of between 15 and 17 million victims. Pioneering researcher Robert Conquest, meanwhile, has revised his original estimate of up to 30 million victims down to 20 million.[81] Others, however, continue to maintain that their earlier much higher estimates are correct.[82]"

Ducks Are In Lineup For Four Charities

For more on the Class of 2008 Ducks
Click on the title.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Pranksters Run A Fowl Of The Authorities

When I was in high school I was given a choice. Actually, I was given a choice several times, but this time it was not choosing between home schooling or reform schooling. This time it was to choose whether or not to graduate in January, or in June. I had more than enough credits to graduate early, and leaving school would have been great, but it was my senior year. The last year. The last time I would be sharing memories with those kids I had spent every weekday with since first grade. No, I wanted to stay to the last second. I didn't want to miss a thing.

Our class was a very unique class. In some ways we were more mature than other classes, and we were responsible kids, too. We were also very creative. That was both a positive and a negative. Responsibility can be a relative term, and in the heads of 130 seventeen and eighteen year olds, we were very responsible.

Towards the end of the school year we began planning the Senior Prank. We wanted something that would be funny, harmless, and most of all, a memory. What we did is still talked about back home.

Here is how it went down.

I was, among other things, a student librarian. Great way to blow a study period, and roam the school unchecked. It was my job to get a hold of a master key to the school. I could have ripped off my fathers since he taught music at the school, but that would have been too obvious. I went for the librarians. Once we had the key, we made copies, and returned the original to its proper place. Next, came the actual planning.

Our school was like many built in the early 1960's. It had one level, and the class rooms formed a square around an open area or grass and trees. What could we put in that courtyard that would raise the smile quotient around the school? Then it was obvious. We knew exactly what to do.

One night, we approached the school around three in the morning. The double doors on the far side of the school were unlocked with the key, and opened. The alarm didn't sound since we had used the key. We placed heavy rubber mats onto the floor from the door, and across the hall to the other double door leading to the courtyard. Then we led in a three horses and a pony or two. The mats protected the floor from their hooves. See, we were responsible. Next, we threw in a couple of bales of hay and a large plastic bowl for water for the horses. Finally, we chained the doors shut that surrounded the area so the horses could not be removed till we removed them.

The following morning, as the kids settled into their homerooms, the school went bonkers. It was great. Teachers, the principal, the secretaries all staring out the windows at the horses frolicking in the courtyard, and they were laughing. Everyone was laughing.

After awhile, the principal came on the PA system and acknowledged the prank, and asked for those responsible to come forward with a key to open the locks we had placed on the doors.

After a bit, and as planned, a student with an airtight alibi presented the padlock key to the principal. The doors were unlocked, the horses were led out to their waiting trailers, and taken back home.

The prank was a prank. It violated school property. Was it right? Of course not. Pranks aren't gauged by whether they are right or wrong. They are judged by response. Ours had a great response, and no damage was done. The previous year a slew of car tires had been pulled up and over the flag pole. The tires went all the way to the top of the pole. They had to use a cutting torch to remove some of the lower ones, and removing the upper ones took hours of Fire Department time. Not good. The year before that the senior had somehow lifted a car up onto the roof of the school over the main entrance.

At graduation, our principal called us then "Fun Class", not just for the horse prank, but the Senior Sleep Over we had in the same courtyard. We had kept one key in reserve for just this occasion.

The horse prank has stayed in all of our memories all these years. No harm or damage was done. We did not become vagrants or burdens to society. For the most part, we succeeded in business, the military, as parents, foreign affairs, and in other careers we have followed. The Fun Class had a "culture" of sorts, and that culture guided our actions that night, and still does today. Be responsible, have fun, and do no harm. Yes, I know we did tresspass, and we did not respect the school, but we felt that the town needed to smile. We had lost two young men in Southeast Asia, and at least a dozen more on the roads in our small town. Somehow, in the scheme of things, we felt the smiles were long over due.

Early Monday morning some senior class member of the Tantasqua Class of 2008 were found attempting to pull a prank. They got caught. The prank, it seems, was to fill the pond in front of the high school,with inflatable pool toys and inflatable toy ducks.

Can you imagine the smiles that would have generated at the school if they had not been caught?

It was an attempt at a harmless and silly prank. Pranks can be destructive. This one wasn't. Yes, they were trespassing, and yes they were wrong, just as I was years ago, and they should be chastised, but don't eliminate them from the Senior activities to come before graduation. Mr Bliss, the principal at the school, has suspended the group for one week, and banned them from all Senior events. They will be allowed to graduate with their class, however.

This is to Mr. Bliss:

Go easy on them. Don't let a lapse of judgment, meant only to produce smiles, spoil the final memories they will have at the school. It is very apparent that these students care very much for their school, otherwise they could have chosen a different, possibly a harmful prank. Suspend them for a time, but let them participate in the end of year activities. Keep in mind, they feel that although the prank was wrong, it was just silly. If we all were punished for being silly at the wrong time, and place, I know I'd be doing life right now. If the prank had been in least bit destructive, I would be singing a different tune, but it wasn't.

Let the punishment fit the prank.

The memories they will carry for the rest of their lives of the times at Tantasqua will be fond memories. Memories of good times, and bad, good decisions and not so good ones. Let's leave some room for their final Tantasqua memories, too, after they complete their suspension.

One more thing, the Rubber Ducky Prank could have been a lot worse if they had put their minds to it. (see photo).

ed note: As this post was being written, the students received a reprieve. For more information click here.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Can You Recommend a Good Whine?

When I was a little kid I employed a lot of tactics to get my way. I failed most of the time, but was often given a hand print on my butt to remember the occasion by.

Whining was a tool I used when I was very young. I was very good at whining. So good that I would annoy the hell out of myself more often than the person I was performing for. I can still whine today, but haven't in a long time. After all, I'm a grown up now. Whining looks bad.

Tantrums are a good way for kids to try to get their way. Foot stomping, breath holding, head shaking tantrums, very loud tantrums are like a nuclear attack if planned right. I never did the tantrum thing right. I was usually knocked silly, so my memory of those events is not clear.

Another tactic was to use another kid to get what I wanted. This often worked. It was like having your little sister ask your dad the same question you just asked your mom and got refused. Another way to employ this one is have some new kid ask the question that you know if you brought up would get you in a lot of trouble.

"Mrs. Jones, can your son go to the carnival with my family tonight. I know it's a school night, but we'll be home by eight? Can he please?"

Add a dorky smile and it may just go over for you. A polite dorky new kid most always would score high on the "Get 'er Done" scale.

We all used the Tools of Deception & Manipulation as kids. Everyone of us, and if you deny using them, then you are from Saturn. When we are kids, it is expected. It is a way we experiment with the different ways to get our environment to conform to our needs. As we grow, we learn things like manners, patience, the art of debate, the value of expressing a good argument, and compromise.

Well, some of us learn.

We also learn not revisit the same issue more than once, unless we have totally new information that may influence the first decision. Otherwise it is whining, and unfortunately, a lot of us don't learn this. And, when a new kid whines, it is the worst. We want to put our hands over our ears and yell, "Lalalalalalalaalala, I don't hear you! Lalalalalalalala".

Last night confirmed that we are living in "Lala Land".

I like Sturbridge better.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Are We Up To The Challenge?

Since the Town Administrator spoke of improving things around here the other night, I've been thinking some more. The vocalizing of changes and improvements was a great first step, and now we need to move on it. Here is a list of changes and improvements that I feel are a priority. Some, will be like de ja vu all over again since I have mentioned many of them in previous posts, some will be brand new, but they all seem to follow what the Town Administrator spoke of the other night. Would it be presumptuous to call myself a muse? OK, OK, yes, it would, but his ideas and mine were not far off.

Here is my list.
  1. The triangle shaped median on Route 20 in front of the State Police Barracks needs help. this is the first sight visitors see when they roll off the Pike, or I-84, and it is barren except for some trees and bushes planted years ago and are out of control. Plant some trees, and prune/thin the tangle of bushes and trees already there. Don't plant 6 foot tall whips, plant real trees. Put one of those split rail fences around the perimeter like the one in front of OSV, and the little park at the intersection of Route 20 and Cedar Street. And, then place a large, well designed sign on the land for travelers to see. A wooden sign, not some metal thing made up in the Mass Highway garage. "Welcome to Sturbridge" it would say, and then maybe a phrase like Southbridges "Eye of the Commonwealth".
  2. Do the same for the islands at the intersection of Route 20 and Route 131. Sturbridge Pottery and Pioneer Oil have done well to do plantings on these sites, but more is needed.
  3. Cut down those ugly trees along the north side of Route 20 and Cedar Lake!! If they are there for erosion control, which I strongly doubt, then dump some rip rap on the banks. The trees are not only ugly, but block what would be a wonderful view right in the center of our town.
  4. Begin a street sweeping schedule that covers Route 20 from New Boston Road to Holland Road, Route 131, around the Common, and to Hall Road every week, and schedule it during the off hours as not to interfere with traffic.
  5. Litter. While getting municipal workers to take a few hours off on a Friday afternoon to pick up litter along Route 20 may be a great thought, it is not practical. Face it, it's the end of the week, and most folks are dead tired. The last thing an office worker wants to do is bag trash before the weekend. Hire someone. Hire a full time person to take charge of things like this, and the redevelopment of the down town area. Pay them. Volunteers are wonderful, but there are things you want to pay someone for, and this is one of them.
  6. Sidewalks along the south side of Route 20. Just do it.
  7. Re-build the granite block median along Route 20 in front of the Picadilly Pub and down to Cedar Street. The angle curbs should be removed, straight ones installed, and the granite block on the median removed and replaced with trees. Cambridge Street in Boston did this and the road is beautiful now.
  8. Period lighting is a fantastic idea for Rout 20 and Route 131. First we need to fix the utility poles along the way. They need to move them underground, or behind the buildings. This is not just for aesthetics, but because they violate the ADA, and if we don't address it, we will be paying through the nose for the violations. After we address the poles, new lighting can be installed. And none of that sodium vapor yellow industrial lighting either, white light would be best.
  9. And, about that Oliver Wight House that OSV owns. I know, I know, I've been on this soap box before, but it is sitting there begging to be made right. OSV wants cash, the town wants to maintain its small town charm. Beat the strip mall developer to the punch. Work out a deal with OSV, and use it for shops and a park. If the buildings can't be retrofitted, which I doubt they can't be, then remove them and make a green space with parking for the town.
  10. Institute a sign bylaw that makes all business signs conform to certain standards. Rid the area of the tacky signs, and don't grandfather any of them. If you want to change the look, you have to change the look. Period.
  11. Work with the owner of the property at the intersection of Holland Road to clean up the property. Tear down the fence, remove the trees and brush and Voila!! A wonderful green space and view as one enters the town from the west. Better yet, buy the building outright and go nuts with shops, restaurant, galleries. Maybe some outdoor dining around the mill pond?
  12. Picking up of litter from the roadside on a regular basis, and more permanent trash receptacles around town.
Well, there you have it, more thoughts, not all of the mess I have swimming around in my head, but enough for now. And, how the heck are we going to do all this? We have the WWTF, the Burgess School, and Route 131 sewer project to do. Where the heck will the money come from? Well, I haven't a clue, but I know how to start the process. Spend a little money and bring in someone that has some skills like grant writing, and organization. Work with the departments already on the payroll in town and plan work and maintenance that can be more easily incorporated into the budge without having to reinvent the wheel. Ask for donations from major contributors for plantings and fencing. Give them the advertising they deserve for their business, and priority when it comes to actually hiring them for work to be done in town in exchange. Not to say they'll get the contract, but the donations will certainly go in their favor. And of course, use volunteers. Under a strong, organized leader anything is possible. Look at what has occured at the Heins Property so far. Amazing work.

If planned, and thought out well anything is possible. The challenge was announced the other night by Jim Malloy, now lets see if the town will accept it.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

I Am Amazed...

Doesn't take much to amaze me most of the time. I am easily amused, too, but rarely am I totally shocked.

I almost fainted when I read an article in the Worcester Telegram regarding a recent meeting at the Town Hall with Jim Malloy and the selectmen.

Seems that one selectmen was making a valid complaint about all the cigarette butts at the intersection of Route 20 and Route 131. Yes, there are a lot there, and at every intersection in town, but those are small potatoes compared to the BIG trash spread everywhere else. It was nice to see that those behind the table at the Town Hall have eyes strong enough to see the tiny bits of litter, that would mean that the humongous pieces of litter have left an even stronger impression.

This is a great step. Acknowledgment that there is an issue at hand is the first step to taking action to fix it.

As I read more of the article it almost happened again. Fainting was not was I was concerned about. I thought I was going to leave this earth for good. I moved the phone closer, and pre-dialed 911 just in case I went out. This is what I read:

“If you got 15 or 20 people out there for three or four hours, you could probably make a real dent,” Mr. Malloy insisted. “Every year that I worked here, everybody complains about that intersection …Yet, I don’t know anytime that I have ever seen anybody out there doing any work on that intersection, other than the guy riding around shredding all the trash into little tiny pieces.”

Holy Trash bag! There was an agreement that there is a problem at the very same meeting the problem was brought up, and by a totally different person! No adjournment and discussing it next month, it happened in the same evening.

My eyes began to go out of focus as I read on.

"The cigarette butt conversation was sparked from Mr. Malloy rattling off his suggested goals for the year. Mr. Malloy said he wants to work closely with all the of property owners at 370 Main St. (which includes Piccadilly Pub, McDonald’s, Sturbridge Host Hotel, Burger King, Yankee Spirits and D’Angelo’s) to develop a parking/landscape/design plan to give this property a “gateway” look for westbound traffic. In addition, Mr. Malloy wants to work with the current property owner at the mill on Holland Road/Route 20 to develop an eastbound “gateway.” Also on Main Street, Mr. Malloy said he wants to look into putting utility lines underground or move them to the rear property lines and obtaining prices for “period style” street lights. Other beautification efforts proposed by Mr. Malloy were working on obtaining any easement, or right of way, necessary to finish the sidewalk on the South side of Route 20 (Main Street), as well as develop a better maintenance plan for Route 20, which includes regular street sweeping, trash clean-up and landscaping. “There seems to be more interest in town right now to do these types of things than there ever has been before,” Mr. Malloy said. "

I felt the world slipping away as I read those words. The next morning, when I regained consciousness, I broke out into a smile that scared Mary to death.

It was as if I was reading one of my older posts. Jim Malloys words spoke not only of a plan, but mentioned specific items in the plan that needed to be addressed. Moving utility lines, period lighting, the sidewalk, a regular maintenance plan for Route 20, and the property at the intersection of Holland Road and Route 20!

This is so cool. It was like being a kid again and wishing for a pony, and waking up to find one living in your closet!

The exciting thing about this whole meeting is that issues were discussed, problems were admitted to, and plans for correcting them talked about. They did more in that meeting than anyone has in a very long time.

For one of the first times in many months, I read the paper about a meeting here in town and did not read about anyone being slapped silly, or being called a name. No charges were filed, no animosity. Just doing what they are supposed to do, and, from what I can see thus far, doing it well.

Now, on this positive note, let's see what happens next.

In the meantime I'll continue to dream out loud with my head pointed toward the Town Hall, seems the reception has improved there of late.

Time To Clean House

When I was a kid, sometime around the age of ten, I became aware of just what litter was. No idea where the heck it came from, but I was able to identify it on the street. Thank Lady Bird Johnson for that.

The First Lady's campaign to Beautify America was massive. Anti-littering PSA's on the radio and TV, planting wild flowers along the nations highways, and removing the thousands of billboards that lined those highways became just a few of the areas that she promoted vigorously. In the mid 1960's that campaign naturally fell into the Earth movement that followed in the late 60's, and early 70's.

Litter was everywhere back then. It was a cultural thing to toss anything and everything out the car window. Paper, cans, bottles, tires, furniture, abandoned cars lined our roadways. We had grown up with things looking that way, and for most of us kids, we knew no different. For most of us, we didn't even notice it.

Then came the Litter Bug ads. "Don't Be a Litter Bug" was the catch phrase used in all of the ads. Suddenly, for us kids we began to put two and two together. Litter was bad. Messing up the roadways was not nice. We could barely keep our rooms clean, but we soon became the pain in parents rears that Lady Bird hoped we would become. We became nags.

"Daddy! You threw your can out the car window again!!", we'd scream. And, if we ever pulled alongside a police car we'd be sure to share the event with them as well.

Over time, we began to learn, behaviors changed, and the roadsides began to look better. A lot better. The next generations saw the land much cleaner than we had grown up with, and with the continuing of the anti-littering PSA's, and the change in how society looked at trash, it was natural to keep things looking good.

Somehow, in recent history things have changed. We've gone back in time. Litter has come back. I'm talking more than the occasional can, or fast food bag, I'm talking about anything that can be carried in a car or on a person being dropped on the ground. Maybe it was complacency. The problem improved so much that it wasn't in our faces anymore.

We dropped the ball.

On my lawn I have picked up cans, lottery tickets, car parts, truck parts, a bicycle, condoms, cigarette butts, newspapers, junk mail, bottles, plastic bags, fast food bags, wrappers, and french fries. All flung from cars and trucks driving by, except the bicycle. That was just pushed over the wall into the stream.

It's time to amp up the education again. The litterbug commercials are long gone, but we need to bring them back. Start in grade school, and re-educate the kids. While we attack the problem on that front we need to re-educate the adults as well. Litter Bug coloring books won't work for them, but new Do Not Litter signs with the maximum $10,000 fine printed on them would be a good things for the older ones to read. Then we enforce it. It will take some extra time, some extra effort, but it will make an impact.

So, we start with education, posting No Littering signs, and enforcement, then come up with an idea on how to clean up and maintain what we have here in town. More trash barrels spread around town, and at public places would be a place to start. I know, the DPW is taxed enough, but the only other alternative would be to hire a private company. Which is better, which is best?

Another thing to do is to form a committee. I know. Another committee? Yes, an anti-litter committee. Check out the links listed elsewhere on this page for some ideas. The city of New Bedford took on the challenge in a unique way. The Adopt a Highway program, through the Mass Highway Department, would be one thing to consider for our state roads. Maybe the Junior Class at the high school adopting 2 miles of Route 148 to maintain, or a local church adopting a part of Route 131. For those areas in town that are not state roads, but need some attention, the town could begin its own Adopt a Roadway program. Smaller areas would attract more people to volunteer, and if you mark the area with a swell sign, it would be great.

A volunteer program would free up the DPW for more DPW type things.

Just some thoughts. If you feel the ideas could fly, then click the little envelope at the bottom of this post, and send it to someone you feel could make a difference.

Start with yourself.

"Littering on or within 20 yards of a public highway, or upon public land or coastal or inland waters, is a crime for which violators may be fined up to $ 3,000 for a first offense and up to $ 10,000 for subsequent offenses. The court may order the person to remove the litter at his own expense (Mass. Gen. Laws Ch. 270 § 16). Alternatively, Massachusetts law authorizes law enforcement officers who witness littering to order the individual to appear in court to pay a non-criminal fine. Fines are $ 20 for the first three offenses committed in a calendar year and $ 100 for subsequent offenses within the calendar year. Anyone who fails to pay the fines is subject to criminal charges (Mass. Gen. Laws Ch. 270 § 16A). In addition, the registrar of motor vehicles may suspend for up to seven days the driver's license of someone who litters from his car, or who knowingly permits others in his car to litter (Mass. Gen. Laws Ch. 90 § 22G)." Source

NOTE: The above photo was not taken in Sturbridge.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Creative Ways To Combat Litter

Litter has increased in recent years all over the Commonwealth. This is the first in a series of posts regarding litter, and the imaginative ways to combat it.

A litter idea: Turn losers into possible winners

Denise Jewell CNHI News Service

Tue, May 13 2008— Massachusetts has come up with a clever way to discourage lottery ticket litter and encourage frequent sales at the same time. You simply turn in five losers for a potential winner.The idea, lottery officials said, is to prevent the millions of discarded scratch-off tickets from ending up as debris about the thousands of neighborhood and other lottery outlets.And, in Massachusetts, scratch tickets are a huge business. They provide 70 percent of the $4.5 billion the state receives annually from lottery sales.Losing tickets are redeemed at fairs and other events around the state, then taken to a recycling center for shredding and conversion to paper pulp.Beth Bresnahan, a spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Lottery, said the program is 2 years old and thus far has collected 100 tons of losers.Most states hold second chance drawings as a way to collect used tickets, a technique abandoned by Massachusetts in favor of the five-for-one approach.Lottery agents said the redemption program keeps their premises clean. Some players, they said, even rummage through trash barrels in quest of critical mass.To make it worth the effort, the agents said, most regular lottery players try to accumulate 25 pounds of tickets. That weight is worth about $300 in potential winning tickets."It's helpful to keep the place looking nice," said Tony Amico, co-owner of Ted's Stateline Mobil in Methuen, Mass., the state's top scratch ticket agent.Denise Jewell is a CNHI News Service Elite Reporting Program fellow. She writes for the Niagara Gazette in Niagara Falls, N.Y.
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The above article is from the Salem News Online May 13, 2008

Friday, May 9, 2008

Forgotten Sturbridge

As time goes on in a small town many of the sights we see everyday become commonplace. They blend into the scenery without so much as a second glance. I am not referring to the pretty sights. I am referring to what planners in the 1960's called "blight".

Even in a small town, a town that thinks very highly of itself, blight can occur. Its onset is subtle, barely noticeable, then one day we see it for the first time, and ask, "Where the heck did that come from?".

There are a few places in town that have been forgotten. One such place may be a bit hard to find, or see during the day. If you travel Route 20 east, just past Route 131, look to your left into the woods beside the lake, and before you come to the motel. There, in the brush is a spotlight aiming straight up. It comes on at dusk, and goes off in the morning. At one time it lit up a sign there in the woods, but now it does nothing more than burn electricity. The sign is long gone. I am sure the power comes from the motel at the corner of New Boston Road, and the new owners haven't a clue to that is on.

A more obvious piece of forgotten Sturbridge is the large motel sign beside the Chinese restaurant on Rt. 20. The Village Motel sign has been there for decades, but the motel is no longer used as a motel. It is a landmark in a way, but its job is done, and should be removed.

The saddest place is also on Route 20. A grand old house beside the Blackington Building has looked proudly over the Quinebaug for a very long time. A few years back the house was in the midst of a renovation, then all work stopped. It has been left barely completed for years. The overgrowth covers much of the debris spread around the property. I don't know the story behind the house, and why the renovations stopped. I am sure the folks that started it had the very best intentions, but something happened, and they were unable to complete the project. I doubt it will ever be completed.

The issue is now is not that the work was stopped, but the house is a hazard. Empty, with debris surrounding it, the old house is a target for vandals, not to mention fire.

Does the town have the ability to help? Would they if they did? I don't know. I am sure there has been some discussion with the owners over time, but it is time for either the renovation to continue, or the home to be razed. It just comes down to safety.

The house has so much going for it. The stone work along the front walk, and the old lamps show that it was well cared for at one time. I am sure the interior has many features worth saving.

So, what can the town do? Does it reach out to those involved? Does it back off while the owners figure out what they need to do? It's already been years. Do the owners still own the building? Does the bank, or the town own it for back taxes?

I don't know.

I do know there are other places in town that need some attention, too, but these examples come to mind easily since I travel Route 20 all the time. I am not passing judgment, but merely hoping to open some eyes a bit more.

Sometimes we need to look around us, and see through scenery to what lies beneath, and if something requires fixin', then we need to fix it. Small towns have always been good in this way. Ours shouldn't be any different.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

America's 'Top 100 Family Campgrounds' Announced by ReserveAmerica

Wells State Park Makes America's 'Top 100 Family Campgrounds' Announced by ReserveAmerica


Old Sturbridge Village reports increase in attendance
by The Republican Newsroom

Tuesday May 06, 2008, 7:06 PM

STURBRIDGE - Attendance at Old Sturbridge Village for the first four months of this year is 33 percent up on the same period last year, the Village's president said today. "To see double-digit attendance increases this early in the year is a strong indicator that we will have a record-breaking summer," President James E. Donahue said. Attendance through April 30 was 41,157, compared to 30,948 for the first four months of 2007, Donahue said.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

I Walk The Line

When I came out this way back in 2000 I fell in love with the area immediately. Not only the landscape, and the people, but the fact there was TWO supermarkets in town, TWO Dunkin' Donuts, a JC Penny, Linens & Things, a Wal*Mart, Old Navy, Pier One, a shoe store, Marshalls, and a Sherwin Williams Paint Store.

Whoa, baby.

For a small town of under 10,000 people this community had so much going for it. I didn't have to jump in the car and drive 10 miles out of town to shop for a tie and dress shirt. I had a choice of food stores. I could grab a cup of coffee no matter what part of town I was in, and still the town had that rural quality that I grew up with, and had been missing for so many years.

Around the time I first settled in, a friend of mine told me about the hard times Sturbridge had a few years earlier. She had been a member of the Planning Board, and said her time on that board during the late 90's was one of the hardest, most exhausting times she could remember.

It seems there was this group in town that were very much against Wal*Mart coming to town. The character of the town would change, and many of them were against the way Wal*Mart operated. Understandable. I don't like many of the things that Wal*Mart has done, and been accused of doing over the years either. I do like convenience, though. And, in the court of public opinion, when accused, Wal*Mart does scurry to make good, and at times they succeed.

This anti-Wal*Mart group was dubbed "SOS'ers for Save Our Sturbridge. Most were described to me as folks that would never shop at a Wal*Mart anyway, and felt that a large shopping plaza would ruin the small town appeal of Sturbridge. They were eventually labeled preservationists, tree huggers, crunchy-granola types. A large rift developed in town. Then it went away. Wal*Mart was built as were other stores and restaurants in the plaza. Many of those that opposed the building of the store can be seen shopping there now.

The wounds had healed.

Or, so we thought.

Over the past few months there has been a lot of name calling in this town. As the moderator at the Town Meeting stated, folks are passionate in their positions here in town. He also warned that he would not take any nonsense at the meeting, and if there was any, he had the power to have those that got out of line ejected, or even arrested. Sad state of affairs when a warning like that must be given at the beginning of a Town Meeting.

He didn't mince words. The Town Moderator was then placed on my Top Ten List.

Now, I am by no means what they refer to as a "SOS'er. Quite frankly, I wouldn't know one if I fell on them, but I'll hug a tree more often than not, stop my car on Route 2o to let a turtle cross, and I more than enjoy the walks Mary and I take on the trails in town. I've written a great deal about how much I enjoy the way of life out here in Central Massachusetts, and since I work in Boston, I can see, and feel the difference better than most. That being said, I am also not against growth if done in a planned, well thought out manner, and we don't destroy what we have.

If Bob Kraft didn't scoop the Bass Pro Shop folks for his Patriot Place in Foxboro, I'd be all for them coming here to Sturbridge. Maybe a huge L.L. Bean, or Kittery Trading Post Annex would do well here in town. And, why not? If planned right, placed right, and marketed right, a large business could fit in very well, and we could still maintain our way of life.

What I do have a hard time with is sprawl. Residential sprawl to be exact. Large housing developments of similar styled homes with no character, no trees, and little to offer other than bedrooms. That style was from the 1960's. We are far beyond that today

For 25 years I lived in another town in Massachusetts. When my house was built in 1975 the town still had much of its agricultural roots still in place. There were miles of meadows, and forests. There were some developments built during the late 1950's and some more in the 1960's, but not many house were erected. The 1970's saw a bump in the number of homes built. Mine was one of them. There was a wonderful farm out behind my place. I often said that when that place went to a developer it would be time to leave. It was purchased by a large New Jersey builder in the 1980's and soon the meadows were gone, the pastures and horses gone, the woods gone, and the old farm house and barns, all gone.

The 1980's added hundreds and hundreds of homes to the town. For several years the town had the most building permits issued for any town in the entire state, close to 500 per year.

The town changed quickly. Builders were given special treatment. Closed door deals were made, and the town lost it who it was. It became what Framingham was in the 1960's. Over built with no end in sight.

Based on what I've seen happen elsewhere, I don't want to ever see it happen here in Sturbridge. We have so many bright, sharp individuals here in town that are able to walk the line, and make good decisions. They may be pro or con on a particular subject, but they stand behind their opinion, and don't resort to sophomoric behavior. And, above all, they will listen to an opposing view, and take it under advisement. We are very fortunate in this regard.

So, where would I stand in this morass of acronyms? Am I really an SOS'er? I don't know. First, I'd have to actually meet one to be sure, and learn the secret handshake and all, but this I will share with you, I like trees. I can't wait to hear the peepers in the spring, I enjoy sitting by a pond and watching the turtles sunbathe, and I will support any cause that is designed to save those moments for our children.

On the other hand, I am for growing our town to meet the needs of its residents, too. I can walk a tightrope very well. Thoughtful, planned out growth by both sides is key. No other way to do it.

In the meantime, I'll support the best ideas and plans of those residents, no matter what acronym they fall under.

See, it's not all about me, it's all about us.

Now, if you'll excuse me, there is a Maple in the yard that needs a squeeze.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Tale of Two Villages

Since last week we've been in Ogunquit on what has become an annual pilgrimage to the sea.
Ogunquit, Maine was first settled around the same time Sturbridge was, in the early to mid 1600's, and that is only one of the several similarities the two towns share.

Ogunquit has been a tourist town for well over 100 years. People were traveling to the shore for few days away long before vacations were called vacations. The town had something to offer that only coastal villages can give: The ocean.

Well, that's a no-brainer, but it was dependant on what the other things the town had to offer that would decide whether, or not it would prosper during those summer months. The sea air, miles of sandy beaches, and no reason to move off ones butt other than to answer the dinner bell were good reason to come back year after year. Soon, inns, and guest houses sprung up along the shore, followed by hotels and motels, cabins and RV parks. The hundred years or so since the area was chosen by people as a get-a-way from everyday life it is still prospering.

There have been up and downs over time. I am sure that the each of the World Wars dampened the tourist season a bit, and the Depression didn't help in between those conflicts either. There were tourist booms, and busts. As more people came to the town, more homes were converted to guest homes. More hotels were built. Of course those tourist had to be fed. Restaurants sprung up, and more amenities like banks, and stores lined the main streets.

Today, the town of Ogunquit is a jewel. Lodging is everywhere. A room overlooking the ocean, up on the hill, or on Route 1 can be had most anytime with reservations, and which one you choose is only dependant on your budget.

The town offers a Trolley to haul tourists around the sights in town. The streets are welled marked and there is excellent signage all around town. You can't get lost.

The townspeople have a great deal of pride in the village. Businesses manicure their grounds to perfection and flower gardens are everywhere. The Marginal Way is a path that follows the lip of the ocean along the stone cliffs from town to Perkins Cove. Perkins Cove is a small piece of land with artists galleries, shops, restaurants and lobster boats tied up. Boat tours of the area can be had here, as well as fine pastry, seafood, jewelry, and art. The Town maintains the Marginal Way, and most of it is paved. One of this years project is to re-fence the path on the ocean side and the inland side where the motels, hotels, guest houses, and private residences are. After a bad storm in the early 1990's, the towns people volunteered to rebuild the pathway, and to restore the benches that were lost to the sea. A large stone monument was erected, and the names of all those that contributed are listed.

The village is loved by its residents.

Oh, restaurants have opened and failed, t-shirt shops are now in their 50th reincarnation, and those little tourist gift shops should erect sign reading "Over One Billion Sold" referring to those small cedar boxes that proclaim "I Love Granma --Ogunquit, Maine".

That's the way it is with tourist places. Seasonal businesses sometimes fold up and fade away, but others fill the void. The town makes it easy for new ones to come along. There are very few empty store fronts now, and probably won't be any in an other month.

Here in Sturbridge much of our focus is on tourists. We have the most lodging rooms for a single town west of Boston, including Worcester. We have conventions, the Pan-Mass Challenge, Old Sturbridge Village, our lakes, and woods, and our historic area to attract folks from out of town to us.

Why do some places seem to do very well, and weather the financial storms better than others? Comes down to experience, and everyone playing on the same team I guess.

I think that those in town that want to attract more business to town, to fine tune what we have now, and plan adequately for the future should go on a field trip or two. Hire a bus, load it up with committee members, make some reservations and hit places like Ogunquit, Chatham, Newburyport, Stockbridge, and Mystic.

Go on a fact finding mission. Take good notes and bring back a pocketful of inspiration to us. There are some great plans circulating out there already, and there's been some positive, and constructive talk, but sometimes all it takes to walk the walk is to meet someone on the road that has already been where you want to go.

Above photo: Lobster boats at Perkins Cove, Maine taken this weekend.