RANGELEY – Recently ground was broken for the new Haley Pond Park on the former site of the Rangeley Fire Department. This is the beginning of an all-out effort to rejuvenate the historic village of Rangeley, whose sesquicentennial was celebrated in 2005.
Several entrepreneurs are joining with the Rangeley Chamber of Commerce to implement a revival of businesses at this critical economic time, which coincides with a change of generation along Main Street. The Comprehensive Plan Committee (see photo), headed by Rob Welch, and including (left to right) Virginia MacFawn, Tom McAllister, Jim Jannace, Dick Wigton, Welch, Beth Eastlack, Steve Malcom, and John Cannizarro, met with the Town Manager Perry Ellsworth (extreme right), to break ground for the park and to spearhead the movement. Welch outlined the plans for the park, and Ellsworth endorsed it, saying he is there to facilitate such initiatives.
The initiative is a good example of what grassroots organization and real concern for a home town can accomplish in a place like Rangeley, feeling the recession like so many small towns across the United States. Those involved are contributing their own time and skills to planning and developing the site. Among other things, they will be offering engravable paving stones for purchase to commemorate outstanding people of Rangeley. They are excited about having already implemented this first stage of what they see as a long-term program of rejuvenization of Rangeley’s downtown character.
Haley Pond Park, centrally located at the site of the old fire house on the shore of Haley Pond between Ecopelagicon and the former IGA building, will be a meeting place at all seasons for people to stop while shopping and enjoy the view of the pond under the shelter of a historic Rangeley-style rustic gazebo. The whole idea is to keep the historic feeling of Rangeley alive, by referring to buildings that either still stand or can be seen in photographs in the archives of the Rangeley Historical Society, and in the Historical Society’s annual calendars.
A path to the gazebo will be paved with engravable flagstones, which may be purchased for sums of $100 to $200, depending on their size, and engraved either in recognition of outstanding members of the year-round or seasonal community of Rangeley, or in memory of earlier outstanding Rangeley residents.
In considering the Haley Pond Park and other possible revitalizing moves, many pointers are being taken from the plans drawn up by the Vermont landscape architectural firm, The Cavendish Partnership (now part of Dufresne-Henry), founded by Stephen Plunkard, in their 1991 proposals for development while retaining the character of Rangeley Village. Cavendish was hired with $10,000 from the Community Development Block Grant, one of the longest continuously run programs of the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development for long-range town planning.
That exciting meeting in 1991 proposed ways of avoiding the sprawl of the town along Route 4, of stimulating pedestrian use of the town center, and of thereby increasing the sense of community in the town, and keeping its aesthetic character. One idea was to create convenient parking off Main Street, and there is now one parking lot on Pleasant Street, though others could be envisioned closer to the center of town. Other thoughts were about sidewalks, like those already in place on Main Street, to enable the flow of pedestrian traffic, while respecting the façades and front areas of the various shops along the street. While some of the ideas brought up at the meeting and in the Cavendish report have not been implemented, a good number have, with modifications, so the report has been used as a guideline in significant ways.
Everyone is aware that some businesses along Main Street have suffered from the recent economic downturn. The idea behind the grassroots movement for Haley Pond Park, about which everyone interviewed speaks with enthusiasm, is to enhance the center of town, so that it will once again attract small businesses. The high rents of the housing bubble have unfortunately made it difficult for small businesses to get a foothold and to survive in the central locations along Main Street. Yet for a civic community like Rangeley to retain its dynamism and the feeling of being a community, it must focus on its center.
As was emphasized at the 1991 meeting, people must be lured out of their encapsulating and isolating automobiles, to wander among the central shops on foot, and to meet friends in cafés or in the parks, to visit galleries featuring local artists (year-round and seasonal), as well as artists and craftsmen “from away.”
People involved in developing Haley Pond Park hope that investors from the immediate region can be attracted to purchasing some of the vacant buildings as long-term investments, and renting them to appropriate businesses, although prices may need to become more realistically aligned to the present economy for this to begin happening.
An effort is also being made to reach out to the family-oriented skiing community at Saddleback, for whom the center of Rangeley is an obvious attraction. Saddleback condominiums are being bought, and the owners of Saddleback hope these will become year-round vacation homes for their owners, bringing people to Rangeley not only for winter skiing and snowmobiling, but in spring and fall as well, to enjoy local hiking on trails set up both by Saddleback and by the Rangeley Lakes Heritage Trust, to fish or to hunt wild game in the specifically defined seasons, and in summer to enjoy the Lakeside Park.
Such attractions can reinforce the economic growth of Rangeley as a hub for outdoor activities, for which it has always been famous, and keeping its center active and vital is crucial to the pleasure of participants in all those activities.