State plans new parking area for Willoughby’s south end


copyright the Chronicle January 25, 2017


by Elizabeth Trail


WESTMORE — About 20 people attended the select board meeting here Monday, where construction of a parking area at the south end of Lake Willoughby, and a request from snowmobilers to use a stretch of Long Pond Road to get to the Willoughby Lake Store were the major items on the agenda.

Louis Bushey from the St. Johnsbury office of the Department of Forests, Parks, and Recreation (FPR) unveiled the department’s plan for dealing with traffic and crowds at the south end of Lake Willoughby.

Anyone who has headed south along the lake on Route 5A knows the road can be nearly impassable near the beach area, with vehicles parked along the shoulder and sticking out into the road.

In summer, it’s swimmers. In winter, it’s ice climbers.

Trails down to the lake are steep and eroding. And with no bathroom facilities except a cluster of Porta Potties, a lot of people slip into the woods when nature calls, creating a health hazard.

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New state park opens overlooking Willoughby Lake


Windsor and Florence Wright stand in front of the stone outline of the original farmhouse on Hinton Hill Road where their family once spent its summers.   The Wrights, who now live outside of Kansas City, Kansas, donated the 356-acre parcel of land in Westmore  to create Sentinel Rock State Park.  Photo by Elizabeth Trail

Windsor and Florence Wright stand in front of the stone outline of the original farmhouse on Hinton Hill Road where their family once spent its summers. The Wrights, who now live outside of Kansas City, Kansas, donated the 356-acre parcel of land in Westmore to create Sentinel Rock State Park. Photo by Elizabeth Trail

copyright the Chronicle July 15, 2015

by Elizabeth Trail

WESTMORE — About 13,000 years ago, the last retreating glacier left a huge boulder, twice as tall as a person, overlooking Lake Willoughby near the top of the Hinton Hill Road in Westmore. Generations have watched sunsets from the rock, picnicked at its base, and gathered berries in the surrounding fields.

On July 11 the great rock, and the site of the old farmhouse that once stood nearby, became the focal points of Vermont’s new Sentinel Rock State Park.

Vermont’s newest state park was made possible by the generous gift of 356 acres by Windsor and Florence Wright. The Wrights summered in an old Victorian farmhouse on the site for decades after Mr. Wright’s father bought the place in 1947, said Vermont State Parks Director Craig Whipple….To read the rest of this article, and all the Chronicle‘s stories, subscribe:

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Truck fished out of Willoughby


A pickup in Willoughby.  Photo by Joseph Gresser

A pickup in Willoughby. Photo by Joseph Gresser

copyright the Chronicle May 13, 2015

by Joseph Gresser

WESTMORE — Bob Wesoja was out fishing on Willoughby Lake last week — for his truck.

Back in February, Mr. Wesoja was headed for his fishing shanty when the wind kicked up, and in white-out conditions he lost his way, steering his brand new Ford 150 onto a patch of thin ice.

He and a friend jumped through the windows to safety as the truck plunged into the lake’s frigid waters.

On Thursday of last week Mr. Wesoja, Chris McCarthy and Jereme LeBlanc started off at around 8 in the morning figuring the job would be done in a couple of hours.

They had little reason to think otherwise….To read the rest of this article, and all the Chronicle‘s stories, subscribe:

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Editorial: Fight tar sands oil — for the right reasons

copyright the Chronicle February 26, 2014

Next week at Town Meeting four Orleans County towns will vote on a resolution that basically says they don’t want tar sands oil to be shipped through the Portland Pipeline’s Northeast Kingdom oil lines.  They are Albany, Glover, Westmore, and Charleston.

Unfortunately, none of those towns are host to the pipeline and would not be directly affected by any such plan.

For years now, Vermont environmentalists have warned about the possibility of the flow of the lines being reversed and Canadian tar sands oil being shipped south and west through them from Alberta to Maine.  For two years, 350 Vermont has attempted to show opposition by persuading towns to adopt resolutions at Town Meeting.

Although their efforts were a bit more organized this year, they still seem to be inept at best.  One of the towns that would be most severely affected by any oil spill is Barton, yet that town will not be voting this year on a tar sands resolution.

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Westmore woman plays prescriptive music


Linda Schneck plays her harp at her home in Westmore.  Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

Linda Schneck plays her harp at her home in Westmore. Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

copyright the Chronicle February 5, 2014

by Bethany M. Dunbar

WESTMORE — Linda Schneck’s father died, in front of her, when she was nine years old.  The family was on vacation in Florida and he died suddenly and unexpectedly, and she was there.  That changed her life in all sorts of ways.

At first, she became withdrawn and uncommunicative.  She had been extremely close to her father and was devastated at the loss.

Her family did all they could to console her.

“My uncle traded a woman a roof for a piano,” she said.  Her uncle was a roofer, and he put a roof on the woman’s home in trade for a player piano.  Young Linda had been begging for piano lessons for a long time.  Her uncle made it happen.

“I think music is what really helped me,” she said.

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What kind of birds fly through Orleans County?

American woodwock.  Photo by Bob Stymeist

American woodwock. Photo by Bob Stymeist

by Martha Steele

Seasons in Orleans County are not just about changing weather, leaves, or recreational pursuits.  They also bring wide swings in bird populations, from the near absence of sound or flight during a mid-winter walk in the woods to the deafening chorus of an early spring morning.

My husband, Bob Stymeist, and I have been regularly visiting my mother in Westmore and chronicling the birds we see and hear all year-round.  In 2013, over 56 days, we tallied a total of 152 bird species in Orleans County for the year, our personal record.  In all, birders recorded 179 species in Orleans County in 2013, according to Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology’s eBird.  Our total number since we started birding the county about a decade ago is 178 species.

Birders love statistics and to keep lists.  A yard list.  A town list.  A county list.  A year list.  A trip list.  A life list.  The term “lifer” becomes a unique word for birders, not only indicating a new species that the birder has never seen, but expanding to anything new to the individual, be it a road, a restaurant, or anything at all.

For us, Orleans County holds special affection.  It is where we welcome back our avian friends every spring.  “Our” wood thrush returns every year to a particular spot on our property.  A northern waterthrush greets us with song every spring morning along the road to Willoughby.  A chestnut-sided warbler sets up territory near our mailbox.  We are truly astonished and moved by the ability of birds to travel thousands of miles to and from their wintering or breeding grounds, only to settle in the same place as the year before.  Welcome back indeed.

These snow buntings were photographed on Schoolhouse Road in Brownington.  Wheeler Mountain is in the background.  Photo by Bob Stymeist

These snow buntings were photographed on Schoolhouse Road in Brownington. Wheeler Mountain is in the background. Photo by Bob Stymeist

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Huge land purchase worries neighbors

Bob and Sharyl Devaney stand outside their vegetable stand on the Hudson Road in West Charleston. The couple also sell fresh eggs and Jack Russell Terriers. A sticker on the wall inside the stand says, “No farms, no food.” Photos by Paul Lefebvre

by Paul Lefebvre

copyright the Chronicle, 9-26-2012

The acquisition of more than 2,000 acres of land by a Nebraska clothing tycoon in three Orleans County towns during the last five years is provoking questions and anxiety among neighboring property owners over what may be coming next.

Contiguous parcels of land in Brownington, Charleston and Westmore have been bought by the limited liability company Three Town Farms.  The company is headed by Daniel Hirschfield of Kearney, Nebraska, who is also the founder of a clothing company, The Buckle, Inc., which has retail stores throughout the country.

According to Vermont’s property transfer tax returns, Three Town Farms began to acquire property in 2008.  In August of that year it bought land straddling all three towns that was formerly used as a commercial hunting preserve.

This steel gate custom built for Three Town Farms denies access to a private road off Route 5A in Brownington that leads to the Mount Bliss property.

Recent purchases in 2012 include Hinton Hill in Westmore and Charleston, which together total 500 acres.  According to figures in the property transfer files, Three Town Farms has spent over $4-million acquiring roughly 2,400 acres of land.

The acquisition and the location of such a large block of property has ratcheted up fears among opponents of industrial wind projects.  They point to the property’s elevation and the push by Three Town Farms to purchase abutting property, and argue these are telltale indicators that another wind farm is likely coming to the Kingdom.

Katie Anderson of Westmore, who opposes industrial wind projects along Vermont ridgelines, said in a recent interview she has been trying to get the owner and/or his agents to host a “meet and greet” meeting to explain their intentions for the land.

She said she has received assurances from the owner that he has no plans to construct an industrial wind project on the property.  But she still has doubts.

“We’re getting kind of surrounded,” she said in an interview Sunday, referring to the recent purchase of Hinton Hill.

“It’s got better wind than either Sheffield or Lowell,” said a neighboring property owner who has studied a wind map of the state, but asked that his name be kept out of print.

Employees and those associated with Three Town Farms say fears of a potential wind project on the property are based on rumors and run contrary to Mr. Hirschfield’s preferences.

“He hates wind turbines,” said Pam Barber, whose husband, Bob, manages the property on behalf of Three Town Farms.

She said she has been harassed and abused in public by people who believe that Three Town Farms is buying property to host an industrial wind project.

At Ms. Barber’s suggestion, an e-mail was sent to the owner Monday and a phone message was left with his answering service in Kearney.  Neither one were returned by Mr. Hirschfield, who was said to be visiting his property in Stowe, Vermont, where Three Town Farms has its corporate headquarters.

But while rumors may be fanning fears of a wind farm, suspicions continue to persist due to the ongoing efforts by Three Town Farms to acquire more and more land — efforts that have left some property owners feeling they are being bullied.

Charleston Selectman Dean Bennett said that Three Town Farms has been “very aggressively” pursuing the 200 or so acres that make up the old town farm.  He said the group has been trying continuously to buy the property for three years.

The town has said thanks, but no thanks, because in “this day and age there are fewer and fewer places a fellow can go in the woods without fear of being kicked out,” said Mr. Bennett.

Over the last 18 months William Kranz of South Hadley, Massachusetts, has been receiving letters and phone calls with offers to buy his seasonal home in Westmore from Century 21 real estate agents, acting on behalf of Three Town Farms.

Mr. Kranz owns 100 acres at the end of Perkins Lane, and is an abutter to the Hinton Hill property and the Mount Bess Road property acquired by the Three Town Farms as one of its earlier purchases.  He said a certified letter from realtor Dan Maclure prompted him to respond.  He said he was told nothing about who was making the bid, or why.

“No indication of what the use would be after or anything,” he said.

Whatever the bid, it wasn’t enough.

“They haven’t made me an offer I couldn’t refuse,” said Mr. Kranz, who bought the property in 1978 and built a large log house that still lacks water and electricity.

Another seasonal property owner who has been fielding repeated offers from Three Town Farms is a hunter from Colchester.  Scott Bevill’s Westmore property is close to where Perkins Lane meets the Town Farm Road — a rough, wooded road that extends down a steep rise and intersects with the Hudson Road just south of the Charleston Elementary School.

Mr. Bevill is one of the co-owners of roughly 100 acres of land and a hunting camp that he estimated is worth about $3,000.  “Maybe a little more, but not much,” he said in a phone interview Saturday morning.

He said he doesn’t know what kind of agreement the real estate agent has with Three Town Farms, but “we made it very clear we were not into selling.”

Mr. Bevill characterized the offers as not very much above the listed value.  And when he asked the realtor why Three Town Farms was so intent in buying the property, Mr. Maclure reportedly characterized its interest as an investment in northern woodland.

Initially Mr. Bevill said he like the idea of the surrounding property coming under one owner as a way of keeping the land intact.  But as buying patterns began to change — with Three Town Farms buying property on the northern side of the Hudson Road that included an old wooden one-room schoolhouse that had been retrofitted into a home — his suspicions began to mount.

“Something weird for someone so far away to be interested in this,” he told himself.

West and less than a mile down the Hudson Road is a small vegetable stand with the enterprising name of Devaney Farm & Greenhouse.  Bob Devaney and wife, Sharyl, have owned the stand and the house across the road for about eight years.

Over the last few years they have seen Three Town Farms buy up the neighboring properties.

“They own everything around us,” said Mr. Devaney.

He added that if things keep on going the way they had been going, their vegetable stand was going to be left surrounded by corporate-owned property, and they would be left “like Custer making a last stand.”

The couple has rejected at least two offers from Three Town Farms, including one from Pam Barber, who bristled during a recent interview at the characterization that she serves as an agent for Three Town Farms.

Instead, she said she only helps her husband in managing the property, although she recalled telling neighbors that “if they every wanted to sell to remember us.”

One of the offers to the Devaneys was sweetened by the promise they could remain on the land as long as they liked.  But Mrs. Devaney said she didn’t want to live under those conditions.

The couple said they were told “any place on the Hudson Road was worth only $1,000 an acre.”

One family who may have come out ahead from selling its property to Three Town Farms is the farm family of Burton Hinton.

“We didn’t want to sell, but I would have lost the whole damn thing,” said Mr. Hinton, whose family has owned the farm through four generations.

“I’m a dairy farmer.  I’ve been milking cows since I was 12 years old,” he said, adding that the high price of feed and the low price for milk had left him with no other option.

“It’s not what I wanted to see happen, but it was best for us and our two little girls.”

What cinched the deal, he said, was the decision by Three Town Farms to increase its offer by $100,000 and to give the family three years to stay on the farm without paying rent.

“They wanted it,” he said, speaking of the 356-acre farm that sold for $730,000 — a hefty hike over the town’s Grand List appraisal of $597,300.

While the Hinton Hill farm purchase may have pushed some wind opponents over the cusp, Three Town Farms leases the fields it owns at the end of Mount Bliss Road.  Three Towns bought property on both sides of the Mount Bliss Road in August 2008, getting a good deal on 265 acres by paying $117,820 for property listed at $145,300 by the Town of Brownington.

Tim Nadeau is the live-in hired man for Three Town Farms, and during a recent interview he said rumors have been spreading like wildfire that an industrial wind farm is going up on the property his absentee-landlord boss is buying.

He said he couldn’t go anywhere, whether it be shopping or to church, without being asked when the wind farm is coming to town.  The land he oversees is posted — he said Mr. Hirschfield is opposed to hunting and any use of his land by motorized vehicles that are steered with handlebars.  Both sides of the town road leading up to the house and the outbuildings have been cleared, and there are plans to install a guardrail on one of curves.  Three Town Farms is reportedly paying for the improvements

Presently, the town school bus won’t climb the hill during the winter, and Mr. Nadeau’s wife has to bring the kids to the bus at the junction with the Hudson Road.

Three Town Farm has employed Mr. Nadeau about a year, and he said he was happy with his job, which also provides he and his family with an attractive, sturdy looking house.

He said he heard Westmore is going to have a meeting over whether an industrial wind project should be sited on ridgelines within the town limits.

“I don’t know why they’re having a meeting to protest something that isn’t even here,” he said.

Westmore recently conducted a survey to see what its residents and taxpayers value when it comes to such natural resources as water quality, open fields, and high-elevation development.  Some say the survey was fueled by concerns over the protracted land-buying pattern of Three Town Farms.

But the head of the town planning commission, Louisa Dotoli, downplayed that motivation.  In a Tuesday interview she said the survey was part of the process of updating the town plan, and had not been triggered by concerns about a wind project coming to town.

Meanwhile Mr. Bevill, speaking from Colchester on the property he owns on Perkins Lane, said that he has come to form an attachment to the land and the people in Westmore.  Still, he expressed concern that his neighbors might sell out and leave him and hunting pals surrounded by posted land.

“We don’t want to pack up,” he said.  “We have become attached to it and don’t want to be displaced by some wind project by some guy from out of state.”

And regardless of Three Town Farms’ intent, he added, its large land purchases deserved public scrutiny, “even if we’re totally off the mark.”

contact Paul Lefebvre at

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