Volunteers carve out downtown oasis


MANCHESTER >> Surrounded by the frenetic activity of the downtown shopping district, tucked behind Main Street, Center Hill and Depot Street businesses, is an oasis of natural beauty and tranquility on the banks of the Battenkill River.

And members of the Transition Town Manchester and the Manchester Riverwalk Association team are making sure it stays that way.

"It's so quiet here, away from all the business of town," said Jay Venable, Transition Town volunteer for the past three years, as she strolled through the woods listening to the subdued babble of the river rolling over the rocks. "And it's so beautiful. A natural part of the world in the middle of everything, but hardly anybody ever comes here."

Periodically, the groups throw clean up parties at the Riverwalk during which volunteers come in and pick up debris along the river banks.

The last clean up day was Sunday. Volunteers brought gloves, lopping shears, rakes and water bottles for the work and enjoyed cider and snacks during breaks.

Recently, volunteers erected signs at the Price Chopper parking area that will lead visitors to the Riverwalk entrance.

According to Bill Laberge, a member of the Riverwalk Committee, the Association has plans for the Riverwalk, which include further underbrush clearing and the possibility of two pedestrian bridges to improve access to both sides of the Battenkill.

"We're working with a few engineers to design what it will look like," Laberge said. "We're fundraising now to build the bridges and make this thing happen. My guess is it will take $750,000 when we're all done, about $500,000 to get things rolling."

He said a combination of grants, private donations and a Kickstarter campaign will hopefully raise enough for the job.

"I think this is going to be an exciting time," Laberge said.

According to its website, "The Manchester Riverwalk is a 501c(3) non-profit organization with a mission to build, beautify, and maintain public pathways along the West Branch of the Battenkill River in Manchester, Vermont thereby enhancing vibrancy in the community, while creating a compelling recreational and cultural destination."

Venable noted that once some more work is done to the walkway and the nearby clearing, which features a waterfall just behind the Village Green, it could conceivably be the site of special events like picnics, birthday parties, or even smallish weddings.

Laberge noted that the long-term plan is to extend the walkway along the river to other parts of town.

There are roughly 85 active volunteers, although periodically, groups of volunteers from places like Burr & Burton Academy swell that figure.

The walkway will not be paved, and any improvements, aside from the bridges, will be low impact.

"It's nice, because most of the community feels an ownership to this," Laberge said. "And we want it to remain a natural setting."

One local resident happened to be taking a break on the riverside from his job nearby at The Works on Depot Street while Venable was pointing out the charms of the Riverwalk.

"I come down here every single day," said Teddy Wilson. "Have been for a year now. It's beautiful down here, and it's real quiet. Nobody bothers you."

For information call 802-681-3579 or email info@manchesterriverwalk.org


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