Balloonists land in Brighton woods

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copyright the Chronicle October 18, 2017

 

by Brad Usatch

 

BRIGHTON — When Barbara Fricke and Peter Cuneo launched from Albuquerque, New Mexico, on October 7 in their gas balloon Foxtrot Charlie, they knew they were going to land somewhere.

By the time their personal best journey of over 60 hours and 1,900 miles was done, the winds had deposited them in our own backyard, specifically in one of the less inhabited neighborhoods of Brighton, north of McConnell Pond and not far from the Lewis town line.

How they got there is a fascinating story for the vast majority of people unfamiliar with the rarified world of gas balloon competition. It’s what happened after the team landed safely that left the pilots and their chase team forever indebted to the people of Island Pond for their resourcefulness and their hospitality.

Having departed at 6:45 p.m. Mountain Daylight Time (8:45 p.m. locally) on a Saturday, by the time Tuesday morning rolled around the married co-pilots and four-time winners of the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta America’s Challenge were just about out of ballast and out of options.

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Some skeptical of Conte expansion

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copyright the Chronicle October 18, 2017

 

by Tena Starr

 

A federal plan to expand the Sylvio O. Conte, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife refuge that includes thousands of acres in northeastern Vermont, has met with skepticism in some circles. One of the more influential of those skeptics is Governor Phil Scott.

The Conte, as it’s often called, was established in 1997 to conserve native plant, fish and wildlife species, as well as ecosystems, throughout the Connecticut River watershed. Currently, it includes a little over 36,000 acres within parts of the four watershed states of New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. About 25,000 of the Conte’s acres are in Vermont, primarily in Essex County.

The federal government wants to add about 60,000 Vermont acres to the refuge — not through eminent domain, but by buying the land from property owners, or by acquiring conservation easements.

Nonetheless, it has generated concern about how municipalities and the forestry industry will be affected. While no one wants to say they oppose conservation in theory, in practice it can have unintended consequences.

Last month, Governor Scott wrote Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke expressing concern about the proposed expansion.

“Unlike many western states, where large percentages of land are owned or controlled by the federal government, our land use history and heritage centers on private ownership,” the Governor wrote. “These lands provide our citizens with recreational opportunities, an exceptional quality of life, and jobs.”

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North Country Hospital mandates flu vaccines for employees

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copyright the Chronicle October 18, 2017

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

NEWPORT — Many people think influenza is just an unpleasant fact of life, but according to Dr. Maria Fatigati it kills around 30,000 Americans each year. That, she said Monday, is around the same number of people who die annually from breast cancer and in traffic accidents.

Unlike breast cancer and accidents, there is a way to halve one’s chances of getting the flu, Dr. Fatigati said. That’s by getting vaccinated.

North Country Hospital is responsible for people who are already weakened by illness, so it has decided to protect its patients by making sure all employees at the hospital have been immunized against the disease.

In a recent interview, hospital CEO Claudio Fort said he made the decision to make inoculation against flu a condition of employment at North Country after seeing the experience of other hospitals that have taken the step and consulting with his medical staff.

Mr. Fort said Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, New Hampshire, and Northeastern Regional Hospital in St. Johnsbury have both successfully implemented the plan.

“People don’t like to be mandated to do something,” Mr. Fort admitted. He said the hospital allows exceptions for those with deeply held spiritual or religious beliefs and for workers who are severely allergic to components in the vaccine or have other medical reasons to avoid the inoculation.

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Sara Doncaster brings the local hills alive with music

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copyright the Chronicle October 18, 2017

 

by Elizabeth Trail

 

“Everyone has a voice,” Sara Doncaster says.

It’s that philosophy, on every level, that has propelled the Lake Region Union High School music teacher into the spotlight as this year’s runner-up Vermont Teacher of the Year.

At the most obvious interpretation, “Dr. D,” as her students call her, means that the human voice is the one musical instrument that every person carries around all the time.

But on a more subtle level, it explains a lot about Ms. Doncaster’s teaching.

She’s all about finding the unique talents within each of her students. And that goes back to her own girlhood, when the love of music led an Irasburg farm girl to Boston University, where she double-majored in music theory and composition and piano performance. Eventually she earned a PhD from Brandeis University in theory and composition.

Ms. Doncaster comes from a family that lived and breathed music as naturally as they made hay and milked cows.

Her father, Wayne Doncaster Sr., didn’t learn to read music until his forties, when he bought a steel guitar and took his first lessons. Until then, he played by ear. He had a fine country and western voice and perfect pitch, she said.

Her mother, Elizabeth Doncaster, grew up a city girl in Newport, with piano and voice lessons.

And even though it was a financial hardship, the couple owned a piano, and all of their children played.

Elizabeth Doncaster was not only a farm wife and mother, but also a nurse. Still, she always found time for music.

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Fire destroys landmark barn in Barton

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copyright the Chronicle October 11, 2017

 

by Tena Starr

 

BARTON — State Police are looking for information about the Monday afternoon fire that burned the landmark barn known as The Pines to the ground. Firefighters poured a steady stream of water on the farmhouse, which suffered only minor damage, but the barn burned in a hurry.

In a press release issued shortly before midnight on Monday, Detective Sergeant Michael LaCourse said the cause of the fire is undetermined, but remains under investigation.

“Investigators are aware that numerous people took photographs of the fire in its incipient stage and would like to speak with anyone that may have witnessed the fire,” the release says.

A young woman at the neighbor’s house called in the fire after noticing flames shooting out the upper story where hay was stored.

Michael and Kim Riendeau of Brownington own the Kinsey Road property. They said there were no animals in the barn at the time; they were still out to pasture because of the good weather.

The Riendeaus have owned the place for about a year and a half. Before that, Jim Young and Raymond Leblanc owned it, and it was frequently used for livestock and equipment auctions under the name of Northeast Kingdom Sales.

Mr. Riendeau said on Tuesday that he was on his way home from Poulin Grain in Newport Monday afternoon when he ran into his son John in Orleans, who stopped him and told him the barn was on fire.

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Vermont fights for a voice in the farm bill

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copyright the Chronicle October 11, 2017

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

Federal farm legislation is due to be passed next year, and Vermont wants to have its voice heard in the writing of a bill that could mean life or death for the state’s dairy industry.

The Vermont Milk Commission has been revived after six years of inaction to give voice to the state’s farmers and processors. The nine-member group met in Montpelier on September 26 to collect information in order to make recommendations to the state’s congressional delegation for items that should be included in the 2018 farm bill.

According to Secretary Anson Tebbetts of the state Agency of Agriculture Food and Markets, the commission, was raised from the dead for that purpose.

“Vermont needs to have a strong voice,” Mr. Tebbetts said about the meeting. He said the plan is to gather as much input from the state’s farmers as possible in order to offer the best advice to federal legislators.

The Chronicle was not present at the meeting, but spoke with Secretary Tebbetts and reviewed a tape of the gathering and draft minutes.

Members of the state’s agricultural community are especially concerned about the dairy provisions of the bill, in view of the unusually long stretch of low milk prices.

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An old gardening practice acquires new life

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copyright the Chronicle October 11, 2017

 

by Elizabeth Trail

 

Dense forests of bright green parsley. Waist-high kale, green-black and curly. Vegetables growing in profusion in soil so rich and light that a hand thrust among their roots travels downward a foot or more before reaching any impediment.

It’s the impediment, the thing that finally stops the hand, that’s the surprise — logs and branches, layered one on top of the other in a loose mass. Topped with organic waste and then soil, it’s all decomposing slowly under the surface, providing an almost endless source of nutrients for the roots above.

The practice is called hügelkultur, an old German invention that’s seeing a resurgence in popularity in this country. “Hügel” is the German word for “hill,” since the logs and brush and dirt are usually piled up to form a mound.

On Saturday afternoon, two of the area’s garden experts, Rebecca Beidler and Jeff Ellis of Peace of Earth Farm in Albany, held a workshop to teach one variation on the hügelkultur idea — hügel terracing.

The couple farms a steep hillside, so terraces are a logical adaptation.

Their soil is sand with some gravel mixed in, left by a major road washout 50-some-odd years ago.

“On its own, it barely grows grass,” Mr. Ellis said.

But thanks to hügelkultur and other practices collectively known as permaculture, the couple has turned wasteland into a thriving small farm.

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Barton Senior Center closes abruptly

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copyright the Chronicle October 4, 2017

 

by Elizabeth Trail

 

BARTON — The Barton Senior Center served its last meal on September 27.

On Tuesday night, about 30 people, including two Barton Village Trustees and two representatives from the Northeast Kingdom Council on Aging, met in the Barton Municipal Building to talk about starting up a new program to provide meals and activities to seniors in the area.

“This is too important to shut down,” said 82-year-old Beverley Winslow before the meeting started. “I have a lot of my life ahead of me, and I really enjoy going somewhere, playing cards, being around other people. I need this place.”

When the new senior center opens its doors, she will be the first one through them, she said.

By the end of the evening, the trustees had collected a pile of surveys that they hope will point a new senior center in the right direction. And six or seven people had volunteered to sit on a new board, which the trustees hope will eventually number at least 11.

But many questions remain unanswered.

Former senior center Director Brenda Lowther gave the village only about a week’s notice of the closing, said Trustee Cathy Swain.

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Where have all the colors gone?

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copyright the Chronicle October 4, 2017

 

by Tena Starr

 

State officials and others are still hoping for good fall foliage color, but at the moment Vermont’s famous fall color isn’t too colorful. In many places, it’s still largely green, and some trees have simply dropped their leaves after they turned crispy brown.

We’re not just talking about pretty scenery here. According to Phil Tortura, communications director for the state’s Department of Tourism and Marketing, upwards of 3 million people show up in Vermont in the fall, presumably to look at the leaves. That’s a real boost to the economy, as well as the state’s tax base.

“Peak foliage season often has some of the busiest, if not the busiest, tourism weeks of the year,” Mr. Tortura said.

Early October of 2015, the last year for which there is data, was, in fact, the busiest tourist time of that year, he said.

“If we define fall as September, October and November, Vermont had approximately 3.2 million out-of-state visitors in 2015,” he said.

Those visitors spent $600-million in food, lodging, travel, and other retail sales and second home expenses, Mr. Tortura said. They spent $109-million on overnight accommodations alone.

And the state received more than $37-million in meals and other tax money from activities in those three months, he said.

October 10-12 was the busiest tourist three days of the entire year in 2015, Mr. Tortura said.

So, foliage is clearly a big part of Vermont’s tourism economy, but visitors this year might end up being disappointed. Or not coming at all.

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An update from Puerto Rico

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copyright the Chronicle October 4, 2017

 

by Stephan Cantor

 

Early Tuesday morning I was checking my Facebook feed, as I have done every morning since Hurricane Maria crashed into Puerto Rico. Every morning I have searched for news of friends and loved ones, looking for any mention of people and places that are important to me. By Tuesday, two full weeks after the storm left thousands of people in Puerto Rico homeless and nearly all of them unable to communicate by phone, I still had heard nothing about several friends who live in southwest Puerto Rico, far from the capital San Juan.

And then, there it was, tucked among the baby pictures and political diatribes, a random Facebook post from another Puerto Rican friend, saying that our friends in the Southwest were safe and sound. “Están bién,” she posted. They are well. I breathed a deep sigh of relief.

Of course, “they are well” is a relative statement.

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