I grew up in the valley. It’s changed a lot since I was a teenager and young adult. I left the valley looking for something new, as many young people did and returned as many do. I’m not a skier, boarder, snowshoer, or snowmobiler. I’ve participated in all of these winter activities multiple times. They are all fun and exhilarating, but at the end of the day I love tank tops and running shoes, not snow pants and wool socks. Spring, summer and fall I will play outside all day long if given the opportunity. I’ll leave Vermont winters for those who do love this weather including the incredible amount of 2018 Winter Olympians who grew up and trained here including Mount Snow locals Kelly Clark & Devin Logan.
My love of more temperate climes resulted in my moving to south eastern North Carolina when my daughter was two years old. As the years went by North Carolina gutted their education system, and I felt that the chances of a quality education for my daughter were disappearing as she aged. I made the decision in 2011 to give up the temperate weather I loved, for a better lifestyle for my family while my daughter completed her high school education. The difference between the two states and quality of education is vast.
My graduating class in 1992 from local Whitingham High School was 16 people. This was a big class at the time. Recently our two regional high schools merged and the graduating class grew to just under 50 students last year when my daughter accepted her diploma. Small schools are a way of life in Vermont. Small doesn’t mean that students aren’t going somewhere in life. Graduates of Whitingham School, now Twin Valley High School, continue to go on to top Ivy League and technical schools across the country. Growing up in Vermont, small schools meant that there was no place to hide in the best possible way. Teachers met you when you began a year in their class, and continued to keep up with you through elementary school and then the local high school. If you started to fall off, they tracked you down to figure out what was going on, and to demand that you take the time to work with them one on one to get you back on track.
My daughter and I made the move back to the Deerfield Valley two weeks before Tropical Storm Irene devastated Vermont. Irene was traumatic for many people in the valley, but ultimately there was a silver lining to all of the tragedy. The level of investment, from volunteers, professionals and financiers in the valley after Irene is unprecedented. With this dedication came new ideas, new businesses and a desire to overhaul many existing valley businesses, inside and out, with donations from The Wilmington Fund and programs like the Town of Wilmington’s facade grant program and Dover’s Do-It program (both financed by 1% local option tax funding). It also brought new faces, voices and ideas to the tables as residents and our vibrant second homeowner community began to look at how the valley is shaped to continue to grow and thrive in the future.
More than one person in a room means varied opinions on the best way to achieve this future. This can be frustrating and seem at times to be moving at a snail's pace as compromise and consensus are built, but ultimately produces rewards like the completion of the Valley Trail and the new sidewalks in Dover. Projects still in the pipeline and progressing towards the future include additional marketing of the valley, critical infrastructure updates and an immense amount of work to continue to offer the high quality of education that we have fought for time and time again.
Signs are beginning to appear that the investment in time, expertise and funds is beginning to have the desired effect of transitioning from the dated and dying economy of the late 90’s and early 2000’s. The future of our valley celebrates our natural bounty while embracing and welcoming the technology and leaders of the future with investments in infrastructure, education and workforce development. Our communities, excellent small town schools and our transition to a new and vibrant economy will place not just Vermont, but specifically our valley towns at the top of the list to call home to the next generation of entrepreneurs and business owners and most importantly their families. It’s exciting to see how our vibrant community is already attracting new lodging and retail business owners from outside of our community, excited by the promise and possibility projects likes those listed above and the expansions already underway at one of the valley’s largest employers, Mount Snow. With their investment in additional snowmaking equipment and upgrades across the resort, Mount Snow is positioning itself and our valley, as the go to destination in Vermont for visitor’s from around the globe.
While the warmer climes are calling my name, I’ll eventually leave the valley knowing one thing. My friends and families and their children, will continue to enjoy the magic that is growing up and living in the Deerfield Valley. The change that will come, as it always does, will be new families yearning for our captivating lifestyle and willing to help the valley continue to evolve in the future.
Guest Blogger: Sharon Cunningham is an on and off again valley resident since 1987 when her family moved to Whitingham the day after a snowstorm dropped two and a half feet of snow. Occasionally she writes a blog or two, takes a photo or two, runs an event or two and works a job or two in her spare time.