St. Albans Town has Walmart and two growth districts open for development. St. Albans City is in the homestretch in its effort to rebuild its downtown through a $41 million building project. Now, eight miles north, the community of Swanton is coming together to determine how it wants to evolve.
The timing could not be better for Franklin County’s second largest community.
The community’s journey is being facilitated by Paul Costello and his organization, the Vermont Center for Rural Development. Over 200 people attended the first session to outline a vision for their community – which is a remarkable turnout – and the energy continued through last week when the various options/goals where whittled down to four.
- Improve river access, better outdoor recreation opportunities, and expand bike tourism and bike-ability.
- Establish a Swanton Economic Development Committee.
- Improve traffic, walk-ability and parking downtown.
- Unite the community to reduce substance abuse.
Mr. Costello and his organization will compile all the information gathered and produce a report and an action plan for the community by May.
It’s an interesting list of objectives in that, at its core, the focus has been placed on the community’s health. They have figured out what it is that distinguishes Swanton and are taking the first steps to enhance that profile, and to have it serve as a draw to others.
Swanton’s assets are considerable. They are a stone’s throw from Lake Champlain. They have the Missisquoi River that run squarely through the middle of the village. They have the 6,729 acre Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge. They sit at the base of the 96-mile Lamoille Valley Rail trail [the first mile of which was built in Swanton in 2009.] The Lamoille Valley Rail trail also intersects the 26-mile Missisquoi Valley Rail trail which runs south to St. Albans and north to the Canadian border.
It has the ingredients essential to becoming Franklin County’s recreational center.
What’s key to this objective is that it’s also central to what families are looking for in a place to live, which helps in the community’s interest in establishing an economic development committee. Most studies show a strong correlation between property values and the recreational opportunities that are available.
As the community pursues this vision, it will also find it easier to accomplish its fourth goal, which is to unite in the effort to reduce substance abuse. A community-wide embrace of healthy lifestyles helps to lessen the inclination to use drugs.
None of this is easy. As the community pushes forward it will discover other options and other benefits to pursue. It’s all part of the journey.
The timing is also propitious since Autoroute 35 from Montreal to the border is largely complete, with the final half dozen or so miles to be finished by 2017. It’s projected that the completed project will draw an additional 75,000 travelers to our part of the world each week.
That’s a lot of people who could be stopping in Swanton.
[For those interested in travelling north, the trip from Swanton to downtown Montreal is less than 45 minutes, which is less time than it takes to drive from Swanton to Williston.]
The encouraging part of Swanton’s pursuit is that it’s being embraced by so many, so early in the process. As Mr. Costello explained, nothing happens unless goals are set and leaders are found to push the community’s agenda forward. From the process so far, it appears that the will is there and that the community has a cohort committed to its well being.
The rest of us are here to help. Swanton’s quest would make for a stronger Franklin County community.