Parking area near Dorset Quarry closed for season

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DORSET — A recently expanded parking area next to the famed Dorset Quarry swimming hole is now closed for the winter season, the soon-to-be owner of the lot, Ryan Downey, announced on Facebook this week.

The quarry itself, which is located on a separate parcel, remains open, with parking for vehicles available on the southbound side of Route 30 near the Dorset RV Park.

Downey, the owner of Point of Beginning Land Surveying and Consulting and a former town selectman, said he had planned to keep the parking area open only until Labor Day, but decided to keep it open for longer because the surrounding foliage was "probably the best" he's seen in his 35 years of living in Vermont.

The size of the parking area on the 3.25-acre property, which sits between the edge of the adjacent, 3-acre quarry property and Black Rock Lane, was increased from 72 to 135 spaces after an approval obtained from the town's Zoning Board of Appeals over the summer. Since the expanded lot opened July 19, nearly 100 cars a day — an overwhelming majority with out-of-state license plates — used the parking lot, according to Downey.

The parking area covers about an acre of the parcel, Downey said. The remainder constitutes open park area that will include picnic tables and possibly other amenities like Boccie courts and pedestal grills.

Marble blocks now sit atop a berm Downey built along Route 30. He plans to plant large maple trees and install fencing between the blocks.

Downey — who helped shepherd the project through the review process on behalf of the landowner, 1773 Dorset Marble House, LLC, which Richard McDonough and his wife, longtime stewards of the site, own — is now poised to purchase the same property. The deal is in the process of closing, said Downey, who declined to share the prospective sale price.

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Next year, Downey intends to charge $10 per vehicle to use the parking lot, though it will be free for certain groups, including Dorset residents, veterans and sightseers intending to stay only a short period of time. The fees will be put toward construction work to improve the park, Downey said.

Downey said he sees the project, technically not a charitable endeavor, as a "way of contributing to my town." It might turn a profit "years down the road," he said, once the mortgage is paid off.

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The entity poised to own the land is named The Dorset Parking Park, LLC — a nod to a non serious suggestion from a town land-use board member, he said — and will do business as The Dorset Marble Park.

Downey said USA Today's inclusion of the quarry on a list of "top-secret swimming holes" in 2013, the invention of GoPro action cameras and the creation of YouTube have all contributed to the site's increase in popularity, which "was beginning to get out of hand," necessitating a solution like the one he has developed.

The town's Zoning Board of Appeals, as a condition of its approval granted in June, required Downey to erect a black, chain-link fence along the property's eastern border by June 2021 to help prevent potential trespassing on an adjacent homeowner's land.

People interested in donating a memorial tree for the nascent park may contact or visit Equinox Valley Nursery in Manchester or Mettowee Mill Nursery in Dorset, according to Downey.

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'Actively in conversation'

In an interview on Wednesday, Richard McDonough, who along with his wife owns the quarry parcel through a separate entity, Oldest American Marble Quarry, LLC, said details of a possible transfer of the quarry parcel to the nonprofit Vermont River Conservancy still need to be worked out.

McDonough said he has served as the quarry's de facto caretaker since the late 1990s, when he purchased the property, and has spent tens of thousands of dollars on it. Now in his 70s, he is ready to for another entity to assume that role, he said.

Downey has been "very creative" in his work on the adjoining, parking-lot parcel, which now features more of a "park-like setting," McDonough said.

Steven Libby, executive director of the Vermont River Conservancy, confirmed that his group is "very actively in conversation" with the landowner, though no formal agreement has been reached. The conservation of key swimming areas is "clearly within our mission as an organization," he noted.

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