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By Keith Whitcomb, as seen in the Times Argus:

POULTNEY — The town is among three communities to receive a state planning grant that’s only awarded to a few places every couple of years.

It was announced Monday that Poultney, Bethel and Lyndon have been awarded Better Connections grants.

Sarah Pelkey, economic development coordinator for Poultney, said the town was awarded $75,000 to develop a plan that will connect its downtown to existing recreational assets, such as Slate Valley Trails.

“There’s been a whole lot of planning work related to the recreation economy happening in Poultney over the course of the past year and a half, so the timing is great and I think that’s why we got it,” said Pelkey.

With the closure of Green Mountain College in 2019, the town has had to plan for its future. Pelkey said her job as economic development director is part of this, as was a series of workshops and forums held in early February, facilitated by the Vermont Council on Rural Development that saw some 80 community members become involved, with about half that forming a core of people working on moving the town forward.

“They’re identifying ways to strengthen what is already there in terms of the recreational assets, Slate Valley Trails, the D n’ H Trail, Lake St. Catherine, the Boczek Marsh Wildlife Management Area, and to find ways to connect all of those things together, and to Poultney’s downtown,” she said. “That’s the crux of this new project.”

Work with the Better Connections grant will begin in the spring and take about 18 months to complete, she said. In the end, the town will have some conceptual designs it can use to leverage funds for making said designs a reality.

Devon Neary, transportation planner with the Rutland Regional Planning Commission, said the Agency of Transportation doesn’t offer Better Connections grants every year and when it does award them, it spreads them out geographically. He said Poultney’s previous planning work likely helped it get an award, as the AOT looks for communities most likely to make plans happen.

The last Better Connections grant awarded in Rutland County was granted jointly to Rutland Town and West Rutland to create a master plan for Business Route 4.

“That led to what we’ve seen in terms of development on Business Route 4 with the reconfiguration of that road as well as a bunch of bicycle and pedestrian projects within West Rutland,” he said.

According to Gov. Phil Scott, Poultney, Bethel and Lyndon were awarded $262,500.

“Vermont’s downtowns and village centers are economic drivers and enhance Vermont’s quality of life, as well as our brand,” Scott stated in a release. “As we rebuild from the pandemic, investments like this will help support projects that strengthen and improve local economies and transportation connections for Vermonters.”

According to the news release, Bethel and Lyndon will use their awards for plans on making their village downtown areas safer, easier to walk around, and connecting them to other town assets.