I attended the Westport Chamber of Commerce Annual Meeting on November 12th at the Westport Heritage House along with about 40 other attendees. I was there as part of the representation for the Depot Theatre, of which I’m currently the Box Office Manager, however, I learned much that would be of interest to the wider community—from the upcoming Westport Bicentennial to cross-town collaboration working to improve our region’s economic development.
Westport Bicentennial in 2015
One major event in the planning stages is the Westport Bicentennial Celebration which will take place over Independence Day weekend next year (July 3-5, 2015). In addition to the traditional parade and fireworks, there will also be a mini-museum of Westport history (with lots of copies old photos!) at Floral Hall on the fairgrounds. Other activities, food, music are being organized to take place at the fairgrounds as well. The dedication of the Veterans’ Wall at Ballard Park will also take place that weekend.
Encouraging Economic Development
Emily Gardner Phillips co-chair of CEVE (the Committee of Economic Vitality in Essex) and Christine Charbonne of Willsboro each spoke about recent meetings working toward making the Central Lake Champlain (CLC) region a “destination” and encouraging tourism. Collaboration between multiple towns was started by ROOST (Regional Office Of Sustainable Tourism) at an Adirondack Destination Summit in Lake Placid. Last month 33 Adirondack towns were represented at that meeting. There those towns were broken into 13 distinct destination areas—ours includes Essex, Willsboro, Westport, and Chesterfield.
At that meeting several challenges were identified across the region, such as need for more lodging; curb appeal, including filling empty storefronts/buildings; infrastructure, including reliable wifi & cell phone service; lack of public transportation; and other issues that should be resolved to help improve our communities.
Since the ROOST summit, representatives from these four towns continued to meet to inventory our strengths, identifying what makes our area unique, and to clarify what’s missing. Early in 2015, meetings will focus on problem-solving to determine concrete steps to encourage the development of a tourist destination in the CLC. Tourism will be used as a stepping stone to build and expand other aspects of our economy in a sustainable manner.
Some of our strengths mentioned include of course Lake Champlain and outdoor recreation; the abundance of arts; wellness centers/practitioners that could make for a “wellness corridor”; CATS trails; our local farms (encouraging gastrotourism/agritourism); the possibility of marketing as the “Gateway to the Adirondacks”; and more.
For those interested in learning more and those who want to have a say there is a community meeting scheduled for Wednesday, November 19th at 5:30 p.m. at the Whallonsburg Grange which will overview the progress so far and give the opportunity for questions and more community involvement.
Making Westport An Arts Place
Responding to the River Street Associates recommendation for Westport’s economic development to create a Heritage House hub for the arts, Nancy Decker, Margaret Gibbs, and Lindsay Pontius have been researching what is necessary for creative place-making projects. To apply for a grant from Arts Place, several questions must be addressed by a strong leadership team with support from the arts and broader community, which Dee Carroll presented to those at the meeting. Also stating that our area is well positioned with theaters, music venues, and artists, several of whom are world class.
“I am excited by all the economic development initiatives. It’s a long process, with lots of baby steps, but I believe we can gradually inform and involve people. We can build a creative-sustainable destination for agriculture, the arts, wellness, and recreation, featuring CATS trails and Lake Champlain. We have an amazing potential!” ~Dee Carroll, Westport Chamber President
Making A Difference
The night ended by honoring one person of Westport who had made a difference in the community. Julianne Sherman, owner of the Bessboro Gifts and Clothing Boutique on Main Street, was presented with the Making A Difference Award. Acknowledged as a staple of Main Street, her shop’s longevity and curb appeal—she’s owned her business for over 20 years and used to work there for the previous owner—and her always pleasant attitude were factors that attributed to her selection. She also serves on the Westport Library Board.
At the meeting, eight people were either re-elected or elected to the Westport Chamber’s Board of Directors: Dee Carroll, president; Jim Forcier, vice-president; Medara Sherman, second-vice-president; Bradley Feldman, secretary; Gordon Decker, treasurer; Directors, Cynthia Johnston, Jayne Vance, Chris Maron, Sam Sherman, Jim Carroll, Janice Hainer, and Patricia French.
During the meeting delicious food from DaCy Meadow Farm was served. Everyone enjoyed a farm to table dinner that was created using ingredients from local farms and producers, including DaCy, Juniper Hills Farm, Fledging Crow Farm, Dogwood Bakery etc. The dinner items included: squash and pumpkin soup; sliced smoked ham, chicken and gravy with biscuits, roasted sweet potatoes, whipped root vegetables, fresh garden salad, applesauce, and homemade pie and ice cream. If you haven’t stopped by DaCy for Sunday brunch yet, put it on your to-do list for next summer!
- Lakeside School Wreath Sale (www.essexonlakechamplain.com)
- Vintage Artifact: Essex Ferry Ad from 1925 Automobile Blue Book (www.essexonlakechamplain.com)
- Inaugural Lake Champlain International Film Festival Nov. 15-16 (www.essexonlakechamplain.com)
- Gastro Tourism in Essex, New York (www.essexonlakechamplain.com)