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, June 23, 2009

June 23, 1988, It's That Easy

Recently a few Sturbridge establishments have had their liquor licenses suspended for a period of time due to their selling liquor to under aged customers. Two of the establishments actually looked a the ID's of the under aged buyers, and still served them.

Now, I can't speak about one of the establishments, but the two that actually looked at the ID's and served the individuals are fair game. The servers were just going through the motions because they can not subtract 21 from 2009 and determine a correct date for the customer to be in order to serve them. They just ask for the ID, and give it that serious, cursory look like they actually are figuring it out in their heads, but have no clue.

Recently, at the Dunkin' Donuts here in Fiskdale the cash register failed to do what it was supposed to do. I had given the Dunkin' Donuts guy a $10.00 bill for my order, and when the machine did not tell him what the change was to return to me he stared at the cash drawer for a good 5-10 seconds before I told him what the change was to be returned. It was if I had snapped him out of a fog. He then counted out the change, thanked me and poured the money into my hand.

Technology is a wonderful thing, but when it takes the place of our common knowledge in such a simple form, one has to wonder what other more advanced forms are being hindered as well?

Many establishments that sell liquor have little sign at point of sale that reads something like, "If you were born after this date, you cannot buy liquor". I think the sign should be facing the person at the register. The buyer already knows how old they are.

Unfortunately, the laws here in the Commonwealth are only designed to punish those that break them, and not for the reason they broke them. If we started to add "stupidity clauses" to our laws, and local by-laws in I don't think it would help, either.

The punishment for the establishments range from a one to two day license suspension depending on their history of infractions. It's not enough.

For a first time offender, maybe it is OK to suspend the license for a day, but for those that have walked this path before, then slam them. Doesn't matter if it was three years ago, with different management or employees, the law is the same regardless, and the establishment should have put in place fail safes after the first misadventure. Like that little sign facing inward, and cash register software that asks for the birth date to be keyed in.

Fines and suspensions can never be too tough, but will never be as tough as seeing little white crosses on our roadsides.

It's All Coming Together

There is a lot of activity here in town as of late. All of it good.

Students from Tantasqua High School built two bridges and lined the banks of the stream with plants on the Leadmine Mountain land, the Conservation Commission has begun the cleaning effort of the Riverland on the south bank of the Quinebaug River, another ADA trail is to be built around a pond on the Leadmine Mountain land, the vote for the dam removal on Hammant Brook, and a new organization comprised of Sturbridge merchants have been meeting and are formulating a plan to meet the needs of residents and those that visit us (see previous post).

Yes, a lot of positive things are being done here in town.

In the past few years there has been a slow increase in activity, and this year, much of that activity is gaining more steam. There are a lot of trains on the track.

If you add the renovation projects of the Town Hall, and Center School, and the reconstruction of Route 131, to the mix, then this year is an exciting time for our town despite the economy.

So, why the "sudden" positive movement forward? Well, it's not so sudden, it has been coming on for some time. Folks needed to get a lot of the negative stuff shaken out of their systems first. This happens when nothing is done for years, and opinions fester away and don't have an outlet. Those opinions, over the past couple of years, have finally been released, and folks have moved on. Have you noticed that since last summer, there has been little, if any, negative talk about things here in town? With that attitude behind us, people are now able to put their heads together and think toward a common goal.

It's a karma thing.

For the first time since I have been a resident here in town, I see positive, actual, and effective change coming in bunches. Not to say there wasn't any before, but it sure took its own sweet time to come to fruition.

We're beyond that now.

I can't wait till June of 2010 to look back on all the positive things our town has done for itself, and the new projects that will be in the works then.

In the meantime, I'll continue watching, and speaking my mind as needed. The field horse may be a good, strong worker, but every now and then it still needs a reminder to keep moving.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Mission Accomplished

We are just back from our fact finding mission to Ogunquit, Maine. I use the term "fact finding mission" very loosely since we spent a great deal of time in the indoor Roman Bath, a salt water hot tub. I was determined to find out if it was as relaxing as I had envisioned.

It is.

Other things that we observed were as I had written about last week, but there was something else I noticed as well. Although Sturbridge, and Ogunquit are both towns that rely heavily on the tourist trade, Ogunquit has much more experience than we do here in town, and it shows. They have learned what works, and what doesn't. Instead of bumbling about from square one, we need to utilize the experience of others that have walked the path before us. Just makes sense.

In the "downtown" area of Ogunquit there are two municipal parking lots available to those wanting to frequent the restaurants and shops. Each has a time limit for those parking of two hours, and one has a Public restroom. Parking is something Sturbridge definitely needs, and has been on the table for some time at the town hall. Finding land that could be used for municipal parking is another thing. I've said it before, but the best piece of land available is the parcel between Earth Spirits and the old Basketville on Main Street.

The shops on Main Street have little, or no parking available. No parking means few customers, and that means poor sales, and eventually... .

The parking situation here in town needs to be addressed soon.

Crosswalks in the walking town of Ogunquit are clearly marked. It is a simple thing, painting sidewalk stripes, but important, and their number needs to be adequate as well. Here in Sturbridge, we don't have as many crosswalks as we need, and the crosswalks should be re-painted every spring, and marked with a mid street sign indicating that it is a crosswalk. I know, we have the signs, but not enough, and after they are knocked down, they aren't replaced as fast as they should be.

Another thing that the businesses do up in Ogunquit is all work together toward a common goal. The goal is to increase business, and increase their return business from year to year. Shops are not afraid to recommend another shop that may have something you are looking for. There is an up to date map of the areas shopping area, and tourist locations available to all. A trolley runs from May to the fall to shuttle folks from point to point within the village thus cutting traffic considerably, and making the town more walkable. Folks are dropped off at any one of a dozen or so stops, and they can get back on wherever they wander off to.

Many of the shops have a lot in common. Of course you can buy the "Ogunquit, Maine" sweatshirt at any number of places on and around Main Street, but each shop offers something the other doesn't. There are several gift stores that offer one of a kind art work and gifts that other places in town do not offer. There are very specific stores, as well. One specializes only in toys, another in fine infant and toddler clothing, another in just candy and sweets, a shop for antiques, one for special grocery items, women's clothing, beach supplies, camera supplies, art glass, pottery, and several art galleries.

Variety is key. Attracting people to set up shop is key as well.

Each time Mary and I have visited the Perkins Cove section of Ogunquit, we have visited the galleries, and purchased a print form the artist. We parked in the municipal lot, walked along Ogunquit's pride and joy, the Marginal Way which led us to several restaurants and shops.
We will walk along the Marginal Way path from downtown, along the ocean to Perkins Cove, grab a cup of coffee, stare at the sea, and the birds, and then poke around in all the shops.
It is almost as if they had it all planned to make the accompaniment of our wallets as convenient and as pleasant as possible.

Imagine that, an actual plan.

So, if we are ever to get beyond where we are now, we need to do more. We need to make the fabric of the town attractive to those in business in order to attract them to set up shop here in town. Those things that will make our town attractive to others will most certainly make Sturbridge a better place for all of us that are fortunate enough to live here as well.

I know, there are committees, and boards designed just to address the tourist trade in and around Sturbridge, and I know their heads are all screwed on the right way, however as time goes on, I see very little changes, if any.

Think bold, be creative, and don't be afraid of failure. With the talent we have here on those boards, and within the borders of our town, we can accomplish most anything we set our mind to.

The issue is setting our mind to it.

Volunteers Needed For New Trail

The following is from Tom Chamberland.--ed. note.

"Next Saturday, June 27th, Please join the Sturbridge Trail Committee and the Conservation Comm. in starting work building the first phase of the Arbutus Park Loop trail, our first major trail initiative on the Leadmine Mt.conservation Land.This multiple use ADA compliant trail will encircle the valley along both sides of Hamant Brook on the Leadmine Mt Conservation Lands (OSV).

Work will include grubbing and clearing the trail surface in preparation for the fine gravel surface. This is also the first work party under out agreement with the American Hiking Society in their $5000.00 grant to us. Helping us on this day will be some 60 volunteers from a regional church youth group.The program will run from 8 am till 3 pm or so, come and give any time you can. Hard steel rakes, work gloves and water bottle are requested. Our goal to prepare some 1000' of trail for gravel.Please forward this email to all your friends, let us show the Church Youthof our volunteer commitment. Please also take a moment to stop by the recently completed bridges and look at the good work done by the High School carpentry class and also the environmental science class in erosion control plantings.


Tom Chamberland"

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Time To Take Some Pointers From Other Places

Mary and I are planning to travel up to Ogunquit, Maine for a long weekend this summer. Ogunquit has become a tradition of ours for the past three years. It is fairly close, and in between the shmaltz of York and the high end tourist offerings of Kennebunk. Ogunquit also offers many things of its own that are well worth the visit.

This little ocean side village has somethings in common with Sturbridge. Lots of hotel rooms, and lots to do once there. Of course, there is always shopping in Ogunquit. From galleries to t-shirts, the town has something for every tourist. Here in Sturbridge we seem to be stuck in the antique and "primitive art" market.

In Sturbridge, we have our outdoors to explore, and of course Old Sturbridge Village when one isn't shopping with the kids for that must have antique, or black crow decorator accent. In Ogunquit, along Route 1, they have a variety of shops. Variety attracts more people. A flag store, a cupola and weather vane store, a store that sells just lighthouse stuff, book stores, some antique stores, clothing stores, small specialty grocery stores, the traditional souvenir shops that every tourist town needs, no matter how kitchy. There are dozens of other stores along the road to Kennebunk, too. Lots to browse on a cloudy, rainy day. There are only so many antique hunters out there, and only so many that want a cast iron plant hook.

There are a variety of hotels, and motels in Ogunquit. Each has it's own reason for being successful. Some are motels right on the water, others are wonderful old inns, and others are full service hotels.

Ogunquit also has a "trolley" to make sure the dollars get to the stores in comfort.

When one mentions Ogunquit to others, most likely the Marginal Way will come up. The Marginal Way is a wonderful paved path that runs along the crest of the rocks beside the ocean. It goes from downtown to Perkins Cove, a small area of more shops and restaurants on a tiny peninsula. So many people make a point of waking up and starting their day with this wonderful walk, and then spending their dollars at the other end in the shops, or grabbing breakfast.

A drive north, or south along Route 1 will deliver more shops, and restaurants to you just as moving in any direction from Sturbridge will expose you to more variety as well.

Ogunquit has been in the tourist business for way longer than Sturbridge, and we should be able to learn much from that Maine village, or practically any other place specializing in tourism. We seem to have dropped the ball along the way.

With the summer vacation days coming upon us, and more folks sticking closer to home, I hope that those visiting elsewhere in New England will find some neat thing in another area that would be something that would go well here in town. Trolleys, Sturbridge restaurants weeks, weekend events on the Common every weekend, maybe a souvenir store complete with t-shirts that read, "I Love Grandma. Sturbridge, Mass", little cedar boxes, and bumper stickers.

It's time to live up to being a tourist destination, and offer more to our visitors. The dollars can either stop here, or travel on to someplace else. I think they'd find a nice home here in Sturbridge.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

I've Seen The Dam Light

One thing I have always been able to do, is to change my stance when given better information than I hold. Otherwise, I am stubborn as a mule.

Recently, I have been reading "better information" than I had before regarding the Hammant Brook situation. To remove the dams, or let them be? Originally I was all for just letting them be. They had been a part of the landscape for decades, and their removal, I felt at the time, would change the landscape in a negative way. Well, after reading the words of others involved in dam removal elsewhere in the state, and how it does increase the fish population, and return things back to a better state, and after reading what the Commonwealth is expecting in inspection fee's, repair and maintenance costs for the dams I have shifted my stance.

All it takes is "better information" than I had, and after many months of discussion I have found it.

It is time to take the dams down. Their removal will not have a negative impact on the environment, according to the experts, and our town, will save hundreds of thousands of dollars in costs associated with keeping them.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

More Dam Info

"Hello everyone,

Just want to update everyone: About 7 supporters turned out to tonight's Conservation Commission meeting, so first off, thanks to all of you for coming out and making your statements to the Conservation Comissioners. For those who couldn't make it, thanks for your well wishes.The five Commissioners voted: 3 yays: Bonja, Hanson, and Grehl; 2 nays: Goodwin and Barnicle. The vote was in support of sending a letter to Dept of Fish & Game (DFG) in SUPPORT of the project. DFG will now obtain a letter of support from Old Sturbridge Village, and once those two pieces are packaged with the application for funding. Though not mentioned at the meeting, three Selectpeople supported this proposal as well: Creamer, Garieri, and White.I will be back in touch when I have more news about the Phase I inspections (whether extension requests were granted or not) and funding for the proposal. For now, pat yourselves on the back for a job well done!Special thanks to Al Basile; Beth Lambert of Riverways Program; Peter Schilling of Trout Unlimited; and Brian Graber of American Rivers.

Thanks all!

Carol Childress"

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Free TV Doesn't Look Good For Sturbridge

Last week I received a letter from Direct TV offering me a great program for receiving satellite TV. the price was remarkably less than what I currently pay to Charter Cable, and the "freebies" they offered, such as the HD DVR was impressive.

There was a caveat though, the prices are only good for a year, and then they go back to their normal price range, which isn't too far off from Charter. Direct TV does offer many more HD channels than Charter, but as much as I don't like our current cable company, it doesn't go black when it snows, or rains.

I had Direct TV for years before I moved to Sturbridge, and the times you would most want to sit and watch the TV, times like when there is a blizzard, or a strong rain storm, you are just out of luck.

So, as much as I would like to change companies, I am stuck with Charter.

But, Charter recently declared bankruptcy. Maybe, another company, like Comcast, will buy them out if they can't recover.

Sounds good to me.

This past winter I called Charter to book an appointment to have an HD hookup, and DVR installed. We had recently purchased an HD TV, and an HD signal was something we needed to get the most out of the new TV. When I expressed concern about the price I was already paying per month with cable and internet, and now wanting to add the DVR, and HD, Charter accommodated me and lowered my monthly fee by almost $30.00 for one year!

It will probably be $60.00 more after the year is done.

One thing I do enjoy a great deal, and don't know how I had gone without it for so long, is the DVR. Like a TiVo, I can choose a program, record it when I am not around, and view it at my leisure. I can even choose to record the entire season of a particular show. With my schedule this is so cool. Mary and I will watch a show together the next day after supper that was recorded the previous day when I was either at work, or snoring.

I feel as though I have a TV Butler.

Mary enjoys it as well. American Idol, Dancing with the Stars, and all those movies she finds on the TLC are now awaiting her review. I have to admit, I watch Idol, and Dancing With the Stars, too. It's great diversionary TV. An escape, and anything is better than the news, although I do need to watch that as well.

There are some families here in Sturbridge that still receive their TV signal free, and over the air with big TV antennas mounted on their homes. There aren't many, but a few. At one time, TV antennas were on every home, and then cable came, and made those snowy, poor pictures clear, and bright.

Some resisted. They refused to pay for something that had always been free no matter the picture quality. Now, with the change over to Digital TV coming on June 12, these folks will not only need a converter box to capture the signal on their non-digital TV's, they will also need a new DTV antennae.

But, there is a problem with that here in Sturbridge: We ain't gonna get a decent over the air signal from any of the local channels with the exception of WUNI in Worcester. If you would like to see just what OTA (over the air) signals you will receive at your hme, click here. Just plug in your address, and a map, and chart will appear with the TV signals in the area, and just how they will be received at your address.

Here in Sturbridge it is as if we are in a hole. Actually, a valley.

We're just out of luck.

With so many people being hard hit by the economy, and looking for ways to cut back monthly expenses, cutting the cord to cable, or satellite TV seems like a no-brainer. However, unless one just wants to view "snow" on that flat screen TV, or give up TV altogether, there is little else that can be done.

You know, many communities around the country have, or are currently installing their own fiber optic cable TV systems.

(sigh) Maybe someday.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

A Non-Update

Recently I wrote about the public safety hazard wrought by the abandoned house beside the Blackington Building on Main Street. In that post I referred to the town of Southbridge, and their inaction to remove unsightly, and dangerous buildings from their landscape. The article was written to be a subtle "kick-in-the-ass" to the powers that be to take some action.

So far, nothing. Not an email, a phone call regarding the article, and I know they read it. It was sent to the Fire chief here in town, the Building Inspector, the Board of Health, the Town Administrator, among others. There were many others that read the piece as well.

So, why no response? Why nothing? Is it because individually they don't have a clue as what to do next? Most likely, they are very aware of the danger, but have not shared their feelings with other in town government, who most likely, feel the same as they do. As a result, the building still stands as it has for all of the nine years I have been here, abandoned, run down, and a fire waiting to happen.

And, it's on our Main Street, for crying out loud!!!

The town is empowered to act. As a matter of public safety, it is their obligation, and duty to act.

Now, I might be a bit cocky here, but I wonder if the building would have been allowed to remain as it is for nine months, never mind nine years if it was located next to the Public House, and not in Fiskdale?

Actually, I don't have to wonder. I know.

From Dixie With Love

For those of us living here in Sturbridge it all seems second nature. We have an Historic area in the center of town with antique homes and a wonderful Common. On the other side of town, in Fiskdale, we have an historic manufacturing district, and sprinkled throughout our town, we have thousands of acres of public land for hiking, horseback riding, biking, fishing, boating, swimming, and just enjoying the scenery. And, of course, there is Old Sturbridge Village.

Sometimes we have to go away for a bit, and return home to see all of what we have with a clear set of eyes. It must be a lot like what residents of Orlando feel, or those folks up in the White Mountains. We become desensitized to all the special things around us, but we still go on vacation, and many times look for those very same things.

I wonder how many of us ever think of what travelers think about our town when they are here? What parts of town they visited? Did they like what they saw? Did they enjoy themselves? How did we treat them? Were we good hosts?

For many traveling up from Connecticut, and on to the rest of New England, we are one of the first stops on the families itinerary. We are a tourist town, not only because of OSV, but because of our history, our location, and the amenities our town offers to the traveler.

The impression we make on those that visit us will either insure their return, or cause them to bypass us the next time around. Overall, we don't chase anyone away. Local businesses, cater to the traveler, and take very good care of them.

I still wonder what goes through the minds of those visitors while they are here, and after they have gone. Today, one can read about folks visits online, Countless blogs, and other web sites will mention our town, and the visits others have made here. Reading them gives one invaluable insight, and that information is priceless for improving what our town has to offer.

I received this message over the weekend:

"Please accept my donation for the "Tables on the Common" There is nothing nicer than to be able to relax in the common whether you sit on a bench and read or have a picnic with your family. The common is Sturbridge History and keeping it so all residents can enjoy is what this is all about. I hope to see these tables in place on my next visit hopefully this summer.
--Patti from SC"

Apparently, we are doing something right to encourage a return visit, and we must be doing something even better for a person that lives so far away to care enough about our Town Common to make a contribution for Tables on the Common, besides the fact that she is my sister.

Thank you, Patti. Hopefully, with the support of those here in Sturbridge, there will be those picnic tables on the Common this summer.