DORSET>> For nearly 20 years, the owners of the Dorset Quarry have picked up trash, scrubbed graffiti, and cut and trimmed tree branches for visitors to the popular swimming hole.
But with a spike in visitors, they say it's time to consider turning the popular summer attraction to another entity.
Richard McDonough said he hopes community members will help raise funds for new electrical infrastructure, toilets and changing facilities at the quarry, with the goal of transferring the site to the state.
"It's been a lot of work and expense over the years," McDonough, a lawyer from Savannah, Ga., said Tuesday. "If we were still getting a couple hundred people on a busy day, I wouldn't consider doing it."
McDonough said publicity in recent years on social media and news outlets has led to more visitors and it's possible to have 700 to 800 visitors on a busy day. With no staff or budget, much of the work falls on him.
"I've literally taken thousands of cans, bottles and bags of trash from there," he said. "But I'm in my early 70s now and I can't continue to put the time, energy and money into the quarry."
McDonough and his wife Kristen acquired the quarry in 1997 when they purchased the neighboring 1773 Marble House on Route 30 from the Miller Estate. Officially known as the Norcross-West Quarry, it was the country's first commercial marble quarry when Reuben Boomer and Issac Underhill started it in 1785. Mining continued until the quarry's closing around 1915, after which time it filled with water and eventually became a popular swimming hole.
"We could've closed it [when we bought it,] but people were enjoying it and we wanted them to continue to enjoy it," he said. "I decided to put my own money into making it safer and more family oriented."
He and his wife have spent thousands of hours and dollars improving the quarry — clearing trees to improve visibility from Route 30, cutting down tree limbs, providing free parking, removing trash and dangerous items and working with Vermont State Police to curb alcohol use.
"My main reward has been the witnessing the joy of youngsters," McDonough wrote in a letter to the Manchester Journal this week. "On the other hand, I detest the arrogant and reckless attitude of those who feel a sense of entitlement to disrespect this gift. I have been both assaulted and cursed on occasion."
McDonough said he met with Gaiotti and state officials last summer to discuss whether the quarry could be run as a state park. He said state officials would require electrical power and toilet and changing facilities. If the state took over operations, it would provide supervision by staff members, manage attendance and oversee parking. Costs would likely be covered by a fee charge to visitors, he said.
McDonough said one of the objectives is to raise some funds that would be a "backstop" for the state and address officials' concern that the quarry operation has no real budget. McDonough said the state's Recreational Use Statute allows them to keep the quarry open for public use and protects them from liability. But the statute doesn't allow him to charge admission.
He said he has been speaking with Town Manager Robert Gaiotti about the possibility of turning the quarry over to the state. McDonough said he hopes to have more information soon and to call a meeting with town leaders and residents.
"The quarry is maxing out and over the long term these capabilities should either be implemented or the quarry should be closed as has been done with most similar properties in our area," McDonough wrote in his letter.
Gaiotti said staff with the state Department of Forests Parks and Recreation "have been very helpful with telling us how other communities have dealt with similar properties in an effort to better manage the property to the benefit of both the community and visitors."
Gaiotti noted the McDonough's and the town worked together in 2012 and 2013 to alter Kelly Road and allow Black Rock Lane to connect directly to Route 30. The project improved safety, he said, and also gave the quarry a dedicated parking area. But he said the quarry could have up to 100 cars on a very hot summer day and the town often attempts to remove cars from neighbors' driveways and along the state highway. "The idea to bring people in town together to discuss how the quarry is managed is needed because the use seems to increase each year and the McDonough's and town have to react to the activities that take place there," Gaiotti said.
"It's a landmark," Dorset Chamber of Commerce President Roger Squire said of the quarry.
He said the chamber has held a summer concert the past two years and raised close to $2,000 for things such as cleanup supplies. The chamber also has a Friends of the Dorset Quarry nonprofit organization.
Squire said it's one piece of the town's tourist economy. While the quarry may not be something that leads to people staying in the area, "it's certainly something they enjoy seeing when they're in the area."
Anyone who wants to donate funds to the project is asked to make checks out to Friends of the Dorset Quarry and send them to The Dorset Chamber of Commerce, PO Box 121, Dorset, Vt. 05251.
Contact Edward Damon at 413-770-6979