Lamoille in the News
by Andrew Martin
Critics of a $9.8 million plan to fix Hyde Park Elementary School have been saying the job could be done for less than half that.
Problem is, a $4.7 million alternative they suggest is kind of like plain pizza dough — no sauce, no cheese, certainly no toppings, and not fully baked.
Voters head to the polls Aug. 25 for the second time this year to consider a $9.8 million plan to rebuild and renovate the school. The proposal passed by just five votes in June, and opponents quickly gathered more than enough signatures — 312 from registered voters, when only 204 were needed — to force a revote.
The revote will be on the same $9.8 million proposal, but critics are urging consideration of lower-cost proposals.
The $4.7 million estimate came from a committee that last year studied options for repairing and renovating the school. The committee was formed after Hyde Park voters soundly defeated an $18.3 million plan in late 2014.
The committee did yeoman’s work, and school officials say the proposal has been useful.
“I don’t think it’s a bad project plan,” said Dylan Laflam, facilities manager for Hyde Park Elementary. The school board used the $4.7 million plan as a base for the proposal going to voters again Aug. 25.
Now, opponents of the current project also say the $4.7 million option is too bare-bones. A group that calls itself a revote coalition — and that include some people who were on last year’s study committee — have offered a couple of compromise solutions, one for $5.7 million and one for $7 million.
That group met privately last week — a reporter showed up and was asked to leave — with supervisory union officials, engineers and the architects behind the current project to share opinions and ideas about the project as a whole.
According to people on both sides, the vibe was positive, but a divide still exists.
“There is a right thing to do, and we would support that,” Mike Ryan, the most vocal opponent of the $9.8 million project, said in an interview this week.
“We are convinced there is a lower-cost solution,” said Paul Trudell, an architect who was on the study committee.
Compare and contrast
The proposals made by Ryan and his group share similarities with the plan voters will consider again Aug. 25.
Both budget $90,000 to move all the students to another location while construction is going on, rather than try to do pieces of the project over multiple summers.
“That’s an important item,” said Colin Lindberg, lead architect for the $9.8 million proposal. “It means we don’t have to spread construction out over two or three years. Coming back to do different parts of the project is inefficient.”
The big difference involves what to do with the school’s 1951 wing. Opponents think demolishing the wing and building a new one is overly expensive. They believe it can be fixed for less than Lindberg and his staff estimate.
Their $7 million proposal includes the same new three-story building that’s in the $9.8 million plan, but at a smaller scope. It also calls for less site work. The school plan would overhaul the entire parking lot, removing the need for stairs and bringing the school into compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act. A new separate bus lane and more parking spaces will be added.
The opponents’ $5.7 million proposal would overhaul the 1951 wing, rather than demolish it, eliminating the need for a three-story addition.
School officials say several architectural firms have said the 1951 wing isn’t worth saving, and it makes more sense financially to demolish it and build anew. Studies found the wing has a “poorly constructed foundation.” Demolition costs account for $120,681 of the $9.8 million total.
Still moving on
School officials say the $7 million plan comes closer to meeting the school’s needs than the $4.7 million suggested by the study committee, but say it doesn’t accomplish enough.
Laflam says the $4.7 million plan didn’t include things like new roofing for parts of the building, new kitchen equipment, or architectural and engineering fees. Adding in those essentials would result in “close to or the same price tag” as the $9.8 million project, he said.
At this point, no changes can be made in the proposal going to voters Aug. 25. It was approved in June; the revote must be on the same proposal.
Catherine Gallagher, the school superintendent, said she appreciates the recent dialogue with the critics of the proposal, and their ideas, but the $9.8 million plan has to be the option voters consider.
School board chair Raven Walters said the $4.7 million option was a nonstarter because “it did not take into account numerous required project components, nor was engineering and other necessary professional evaluations reflected in it.”
Walters thanked residents for stepping up and offering their ideas, but the $9.8 million proposal can’t be changed for the revote.
An informational meeting on the $9.8 million bond proposal and revote will be held on Thursday,
Aug. 18, in the Hyde Park Elementary School gym beginning at 7 p.m.
By Caleigh Cross
Morrisville’s Clarina Howard Nichols Center, which combats sexual and domestic violence and abuse, will say goodbye to its longtime leader next month.
Executive Director Jane Ralph will step down Aug. 18.
“I wanted to move closer to family,” she said.
She’s headed to Great Barrington, Mass., and an organization called Construct, which works to provide affordable housing for people who face eviction or lack resources to maintain their homes.
In the last year, Construct sheltered 48 homeless adults and granted $42,000 in immediate financial aid to prevent homelessness.
Ralph feels her work with Construct will dovetail neatly with the work she’s done with Clarina.
“Addressing that need is important to survivors,” Ralph said, explaining that Clarina’s transitional housing program provides homes for victims.
Ralph will take the reins at Construct on Sept. 1.
Ralph didn’t expect to find another opportunity this quickly, but feels good about how Clarina’s doing.
“The organization is in a really healthy place,” Ralph said. “We’re well-respected for the work we do. We’re seen as a good resource for innovative practice.”
Ralph says one of the biggest strides the Clarina Howard Nichols Center made under her leadership was its 2014 decision to accept victims’ pets at the shelter, joining a nationwide initiative called Sheltering Animals and Families Together.
The fate of a beloved pet is “something that holds people back from leaving” abusive relationships, Ralph said.
The decision to accept pets is part of a larger cultural shift around the topic of domestic and sexual violence. Ralph says that, during her eight years with Clarina, she’s seen it move from a reactive approach, helping women and children who had already been abused, to a proactive approach, looking to start conversations about preventing violence in the first place.
Clarina’s commitment to providing transitional housing for victims who escape their situations showcases that approach, Ralph said.
“We’re focused on a need for social change,” Ralph said. “It’s a shift in movement. We want to end violence.”
Ralph said that, by removing the incentive for violence — controlling the behavior of others — the organization and others like it nationwide can better fight what’s called a culture of abuse.
“What’s most important is that, until we get the whole community involved and see that we all benefit when domestic violence ends, it will continue,” she said.
Ralph said a social stigma against survivors makes it more difficult for them to seek help. Clarina believes that destroying that stigma will loosen the grip of domestic violence.
Leaving, Ralph said, won’t be easy: “It’s really bittersweet. We have great staff and great volunteers. It’s a crazy time to leave.”
“We wish Jane well. She leaves Clarina Howard Nichols Center a much stronger organization than when she started eight years ago,” said Tina Springer-Miller, who’s on the Clarina board and is a member of the committee that will hunt for Ralph’s replacement.
Springer-Miller said Ralph “has built a team of skilled and dedicated advocates for victims of sexual and domestic violence, worked tirelessly to promote Clarina Howard Nichols Center’s mission within Lamoille County and beyond, and grown the services offered to survivors and the community at large. She has transitioned the organization’s culture from ‘rule-based’ to ‘survivor-based,’” ensuring that the needs and values of the people helped by the Clarina Howard Nichols Center will guide the organization’s decisions and services.
Springer-Miller said new leadership should build on Ralph’s accomplishments while ensuring that the organization has a strong financial base through fundraising and grants. Those skills will top the wish list for Ralph’s successor.
“It is a challenging job to raise awareness of sexual and domestic violence, its impact on all members of a community and the ways in which a community can come together to help end violence,” Springer-Miller said. “The new executive director for Clarina Howard Nichols Center will need to be a strong and vibrant voice with survivors, community partners and the community at large.”
The job is being advertised now on sites such as Indeed, craigslist and the Vermont Job Board.
by Andrew Martin
No more projections or hypotheticals. After four merger votes, dozens of meetings and one approved budget, residents of the Elmore-Morristown school district are now seeing the concrete financial results of the merger they approved last winter. In Elmore, the local homestead property-tax rate dropped 37 cents from last year, to $1.366 per $100 of property value. Last year’s rate was $1.74 rate. That’s a savings of $374 on a house valued at $100,000.
As expected, Morristown tax rate went up slightly — by two cents, to $1.39. That adds $23 to the tax bill for a house valued at $100,000.
Elmore voters rejected the merger in November, but approved it in a December revote. Morristown voters said yes in the first go-round, then reaffirmed that decision in a January revote.
The new district’s $15,966,750 budget was resoundingly approved at its first annual meeting, held in May.
The arrival of July means that the budget passed in May is now in effect, and it appears that predictions about how the merger would affect local taxes were quite accurate.
“I’m pleased we were able to provide reliable projections to citizens to help inform their decision-making process,” said Tracy Wrend, the school superintendent. “I’m happy those savings were realized while we were still able to maintain high-quality learning opportunities for our students.”
School officials projected that, had Elmore not merged, its tax rate would have shot up to $1.89 per $100 of value for the current year. Instead, it’s at $1.36, a $500 difference on the tax bill for a $100,000 house.
The common level of appraisal, which measures how closely a town’s appraisals match actual market value, accounts for the difference in the tax rates in each town.
According to Wrend, the slight increase in Morristown’s tax rate is due more to changes in the statewide school-funding formula than to any increase in local spending.
What the future holds
Elmore’s tax benefits could ebb in the coming years.
A one-time incentive grant of $150,000 that the new district received for merging will not be available next year.
And, Elmore’s annual small school grant of $40,000 will be phased out over the next three years.
Wrend isn’t overly concerned, though, because expenditures should be going down. Six Elmore students who were attending schools outside Morristown when the merger was approved, and were allowed to continue at those schools, will graduate next year, and their tuition fees will come off the books.
“The expected savings in tuition should offset the phasing out of those revenue sources,” Wrend said.
Since Elmore had no middle or high school of its own, it offered choice to its students. Most went to Peoples Academy in Morrisville, but others went to places such as Stowe High School and St. Johnsbury Academy.
Going forward, only Elmore students already in grades 7-12 when the merger occurred will continue to have school choice. Other than this fall’s seniors, no Elmore class has more than four students opting for school choice.
Younger students, and succeeding classes, will go to Peoples Academy for middle and high school.
Of the 175 or so people at a community discussion on heroin and opiate abuse last week, some are addicts, while some help treat them. Some of them are both.
Whether the drug of choice is prescription pills or alcohol, it often takes an addict to help one, because they’ve been down that road before, and even the cops know they can’t arrest away Vermont’s heroin epidemic.
And Lamoille County Sheriff Roger Marcoux wanted to make sure that addicts aren’t afraid to ask for help for fear of getting in trouble or shunned by society.
“The stigma associated with addiction is enough to stop people from reaching out,” Marcoux said.
How bad is the opiate problem in Vermont? Eric Miller, the U.S. attorney for Vermont, said his counterparts’ offices in other states typically devote 15 percent of their time prosecuting drug cases. His office devotes between 50 and 60 percent.
“That is a function of the size of the problem that we have in Vermont, but it’s also a function of our office’s commitment to playing a hopefully really positive role in fighting the problem,” Miller said at the discussion. “Y’all know we have a heroin problem here in Vermont.”
The problem may start in Central and South America, but it comes north through New York, Boston, Springfield, Mass., and into Vermont, which he called “the end of the line.” Here, Vermonters become the dealers or customers.
“Nobody deals heroin alone,” Miller said. “It’s Vermonters who house drug dealers, who introduce them to the customers, provide them transportation, and use it themselves.”
And they become addicted to it. And now there’s fentanyl, a synthetic opioid 40 to 50 times more powerful than heroin, which makes it much more profitable and much more dangerous.
Marcoux, a former undercover agent with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency — he spent the late 1990s in Haiti, investigating drug trafficking and homicides — has been trying to draw attention to the county’s drug problems for years.
Last week’s meeting wasn’t meant to solve the issue in the 90 minutes allotted. Rather, Marcoux saw the forum as a way to get the ball rolling, to let the community know that most of the people helping stem the opiate tide don’t carry badges or guns. He said he hopes this is just the start of the conversation.
“This is the first in maybe, what, one or two more meetings? I don’t know,” he said.
Marcoux said sheriff’s deputies revived a Johnson man last Monday who had OD’d on fentanyl, using the overdose-reversing drug Naloxone.
He had just bought about 40 doses of the drug less than two weeks earlier, and the man OD’d at 6 in the morning.
And even police have to beware; an undercover officer Marcoux knows handled an empty bag of fentanyl, and she overdosed on just the residue coming through her skin, and had to be revived using Naloxone.
Vermont cities such as Rutland, Burlington and Brattleboro used to be the places where heroin was most rampant. But now, Miller said, the trade is moving into more rural areas, and that trend is reflected in the changes in police workloads.
“I don’t think that there is any place in Vermont now that is better off or worse off when it comes to this epidemic,” Miller said.
“I fear that it is spreading out through the state, along with our population,” he said.
There is a silver lining, though, Miller said. Vermont has done a better job than other states in coordinating police, doctors, lawyers, mental health therapists and church leaders.
He said “the holy grail of coordination” is to sit down on a weekly basis and identify the three prongs of the drug trade: the deliverer, the dealer and the customer.
“There’s a recognition that there’s no way in the world that we’re gonna tackle this if we’re all kind of running off in our own directions,” he said. “We’ve all got to work more closely together.”
Addicts can recover
Many people at last Wednesdays summit were familiar faces in that “holy grail” Miller cited: police and lawyers, doctors and treatment specialists, volunteers and professionals.
At least one of them was an addict.
Trevor Foley, a Cambridge resident, seized the moment to come clean about getting clean. He said he wouldn’t have been standing there if it weren’t for the people in the room, and he included the police who arrested him for misdemeanors a couple of times in the past three years.
“You can get the help you need in this county, and you can recover,” Foley said.
Afterward, Foley said standing up was a way to bolster his confidence, and the huge applause he received helped validate his confession.
Betsy Perez, a doctor at Copley Hospital in Morrisville, said her daughter, an opiate addict, was able to bounce back, but only after she hit a hard bottom. She “kept losing her wallet” and asking mom for money. She ended up going homeless in Burlington, because Morrisville doesn’t have a shelter. Her parents finally had her arrested. Now, the daughter is two years clean, living out of state with her new baby.
“They do come through it. They come through it and become productive members of society,” she said. “My retirement fund is gone. Gone. But I don’t care, because she’s alive.”
Katie Marvin, a doctor at Stowe Family Practice, said her addict patients get so proud about things when they start the path to recovery that they call her up or stop in to share their progress.
Said Marvin, “People come in all the time with these stories. I got my license! I got a girlfriend! I got a job!”
Prescription for problem?
Marvin is licensed to prescribe Suboxone for recovering addicts.
Suboxone is itself an opioid, and has its uses in pain treatment, but it is also prescribed to addicts who are trying to kick heroin or other opiates. Methadone is another drug used to help wean users off heroin, but it has to be taken at a clinic.
Marvin is keenly aware that Suboxone is also valued for its recreational uses, along with all manner of pills that she can prescribe.
Doctors prescribe a lot, literally tons, of tiny pills each year in Vermont — Marcoux said the state collected 5,094 pounds of prescription pills at its last drug take-back day in April.
So what role do doctors play in adding to the problem?
They may have to take a page out of the old anti-drug ads and just say no.
Marvin said people will ask her for pain-killer prescription, and she’ll deny it, then get a phone call a half-hour later from another doctor saying the same person visited them.
Perez thinks her daughter may have become addicted to painkillers as a teenager, after she broke both her legs. She doesn’t have much patience for doctors who give out 20 Percocets at a time.
“You all need to get in your doctors’ faces,” Perez said.
“Doctors aren’t gods. They’re going to need to start saying, ‘Why don’t you take a Tylenol?’”
by Andrew Martin
Sure, the local 17-mile stretch of the Lamoille Valley Rail Trail is a great recreational path.
But it’s already showing it can be much more than that.
“I certainly believe it’s going to be a great economic benefit for the region,” said Duncan Hastings, the Johnson town manager. Hastings bikes the trail a great deal himself and says the number of people using it is growing steadily.
“It seems to be getting busier and busier,” he said.
The local section of trail, which opened officially in ceremonies last month, runs from Tenney Bridge in Morrisville through Hyde Park and Johnson to Cambridge Junction.
Businesses in all four towns report the people using the trail are also patronizing local stores and restaurants.
At PowerPlay Sports in Morrisville, people have been stopping in to buy bike accessories or get a quick tuneup.
“People will take out their old bikes on the trail and realize they need something like a new, comfier seat,” said Robert Coates, a PowerPlay employee.
Hank Glowiak at Chuck’s Bikes in Morrisville is doing a lot of repairs to older bikes. People are bringing in their old bikes, many of which haven’t been ridden in years, because they want to take them along the trail.
The same thing was happening last year, Glowiak said, even though the trail wasn’t officially open yet. People couldn’t wait to get out there.
Bike rentals have spiked at both businesses, even though neither has boosted rental advertising.
“We literally didn’t have any more bikes to rent out on Sunday,” Coates said. PowerPlay owner Caleb Magoon has a dozen bikes available for rent, up from prior years, but all 12 were out on the trail most of the weekend.
“We must have had 15 people call over the weekend asking if we rented bikes,” Coates said.
The trail has also sparked a new business: Lamoille Valley Bike Tours. The mobile business, whose route includes Cambridge, Johnson and Morrisville, rents electric bikes to trail-goers looking for a tour of the Lamoille Valley who’d like a little help powering the pedals.
Lost Nation Brewery says it has been a hot destination for bikers and hikers using the trail. The brewery, which has an indoor restaurant and taproom as well as a beer garden, sits right on the trail in Morrisville. People started trickling in last year and that trickle has turned into a river.
“We get a lot of bike groups during the week and then a lot of families on the weekends,” said Meg Loscomb, the manager at the brewery.
Most of the people stopping at local businesses are from other parts of Vermont and came to this area to enjoy the trail. Some out-of-staters are checking in as well.
The economic benefits of the trail should be just beginning. According to John Mandeville, executive director of the Lamoille Economic Development Corp., studies show the Lamoille Valley Rail Trail should bring in about $2 million per year from tourists once things really get rolling and word of the trail starts to spread.
Local governments and organizations are looking for ways to bring rail trail users into downtowns and villages.
The Lamoille Economic Development Corp. has helped fund publication of maps and brochures that will be available at trailheads and businesses in Cambridge, Hyde Park, Johnson and Morrisville.
Trailheads are already operating in three of the towns and Hyde Park is pursuing a permit for one there.
Several revitalization efforts in Hyde Park Village are tied to the rail trail. A new sidewalk between Depot Street Extension, where the trailhead’s located, and Main Street was completed a few years ago. The town and village are working together on general pedestrian improvements, and just finished a study on what it will take to link the rail trail and village to Lamoille Union High School.
All four towns have either already installed or plan to install signs that will direct people from the village to the trail and vice versa.
“ We are pretty excited,” Hastings said. The trail is already helping to boost the local economy, and he expects much more when the full trail route is completed between Swanton and St. Johnsbury, all the way across the top of Vermont.
“Once it’s all connected, 93 miles, I think that’s when we will really start to see some benefits,” he said. “I think it will be pretty staggering in terms of how many people are going to use it.”
by Andrew Martin
It’s here! After 20 years of waiting, the Lamoille Valley Rail Trail is open.
One of the open sections is right here in Lamoille County — 17.42 miles between Tenney Bridge in Morrisville and Cambridge Junction.
“It’s better than anything we could have imagined,” said state Sen. Rich Westman, R-Cambridge.
Westman has already made the trip from Cambridge to Lost Nation Brewery in Morrisville three times this year on his bicycle.
PHOTO BY ANDREW MARTIN
Bicyclists on the local stretch of the Lamoille Valley Rail Trail
cross a former railroad bridge in Johnson.
It’s hard not to feel some excitement — or maybe relief — that the trail is becoming a reality after nearly two decades of planning, searching for funds, and question upon question.
Ceremonial ribbon-cuttings were held last Thursday at trailheads in Morrisville, Hyde Park, Johnson and Cambridge.
Actually, both local residents and tourists jumped the gun. People were already using the local section of rail-trail last year, while work was still going on, and it opened for public use this spring.
Earlier, a 15.35-mile stretch between Danville and St. Johnsbury had opened.
“We are very excited to see these two sections, which are about one-third of the entire trail, done and open,” said Cindy Locke, executive director of the Vermont Association of Snow Travelers. Locke’s organization is overseeing work on the trail, which in winter is used by snowmobilers, cross-country skiers, snowshoers and dog mushers.
Right now, it’s being used by bicyclists, walkers, horseback riders — lots of uses that don’t involve motors.
Rail trails are great ways to get into unseen country. The trail, built on a former railroad line, runs along stretches of the Lamoille River, through forests, on the edges of towns — and it’s really flat, with a fine-gravel surface, so any bicyclist can go for miles.
The route involves more than 50 bridges and runs through more than 900 wetland areas, great places to see birds and other wildlife.
Eventually, the rail trail will stretch 93 miles across the top of Vermont, from St. Johnsbury to Swanton, running through 18 towns in five counties.
It will be the longest rail trail in New England, and is expected to be a great boon for recreation — and for tourists.
“Everyone is struck by the number of users” on the Danville-St. Johnsbury stretch, evidence of how popular the trail is likely to be, said Jane Kitchel, a state senator from Caledonia County.
Communities along the trail are mobilizing to cater to the tourists who are expected to come.
The trail follows the route of the Lamoille Valley Rail Road, founded in 1877 and shut down in 1994. It was a scenic train ride, dubbed “The Covered Bridge Line,” and leaf-peeper excursions for fall foliage viewing ran into the 1970s.
The state government saw the potential value of transforming the former rail line into a year-round recreation trail, and in 1997 VAST stepped forward to lead the effort. The railroad tracks have long since been ripped up.
While years went into planning, the actual work of making the trail a real thing began in 2014 and has moved along faster than expected.
There were a few troublesome spots — mostly the bridges, cattle passes and old stone box culverts on the trail. Over the last 150 years, those structures have been replaced at different times with different materials and techniques, and “some of them required more work than was initially anticipated,” said Shane Prisby, rail trail project manager.
Another setback occurred just east of Morrisville: A section of completed trail was washed out by a landslide. However, workers were able to make repairs quickly and take steps to prevent similar problems in the future.
One of the next big projects involves the Cambridge Junction railroad bridge across the Lamoille River. Repairs had been planned on the bridge, then an ice floe this winter damaged one of the piers. The Vermont Agency of Transportation took emergency action to keep the bridge from falling into the river, and VAST plans to repair the bridge and replace the wooden piers with steel ones.
All that work should be done this year. It’s likely to chew up all the remaining federal money earmarked for the trail, but other funding is available.
U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., helped to land $5.2 million in federal money for the rail trail. Part of his pitch was that the rail trail will create jobs in a part of Vermont that badly needs them.
VAST has promised to cover 20 percent of the rail trail’s cost, and persuaded the federal government to allow in-kind donation — volunteer labor and materials, for instance — to count as local contributions to the project.
Sens. Westman and Kitchel worked together on a bill passed last month that will provide up to $1.4 million in matching money from the state for trail work.
That money will help finish the Cambridge Junction Bridge project and to work on an 11-mile stretch from Sheldon west to Swanton. In Swanton, a 1-mile stretch of the trail has been open for about three years — a tantalizing taste of what’s to come.
VAST is about to launch a fund drive to raise the money needed to match the $1.4 million state allocation. How fast the rest of the rail trail is completed depends on how quickly permits can be obtained and how well fundraising goes.
“The only way this project will be successful is with the support of the community,” Prisby said. “Please donate to this amazing trail.”
Other segments of the trail in Lamoille County run from Tenney Bridge east into Wolcott, and from Cambridge Junction west toward Sheldon. Another phase, in East Hardwick and Greensboro Bend, will link the eastern and western portions of the trail.
Locke estimates it will take between $10 million and $12 million more to complete the 93-mile trail. VAST is working on state and federal sources of money, as well as private donations.
VAST is also looking for volunteers to maintain trail sections that have already been completed. The Friends of the Lamoille Valley Rail Trail has volunteered for some of that work. Volunteers can do small things, such as pick up trash along the trail, or bigger things, such as joining organized workdays.
“There are many opportunities to help out at different levels of commitment to fit into anyone’s busy schedule,” Prisby said. Anyone interested in volunteering or donating can contact Prisby at email@example.com.
Vermont in the vanguard; no pushback from violence
By Kayla Friedrich
All across Vermont, women are dressing up and going out — for a day at the shooting range.
Last Saturday, six women participated in a ladies-only firearms clinic at the Lamoille Valley Fish & Game Club in Morrisville.
Women on Target clinics have been sponsored by the National Rifle Association across the country since 2000. The premise: Women teaching women how to handle different types of firearms.
PHOTO BY KAYLA FRIEDRICK
Leah Stewart, an instructor at the Women on Target clinic held last Saturday,
demonstrates the proper stance and grip for shooting a 9mm handgun. The
ladies-only clinic was held at the Lamoille Valley Fish & Game Club in Morrisville.
However, most of the courses have been taught by a combination of men and women, for lack of female instructors.
Now, Vermont is leading the charge; it has the only program taught and run entirely by women.
Diane Danielson, National Women on Target coordinator and creator of the program, was so impressed by the Vermont instructors that she flew out for a visit during last week’s clinic. Before she leaves July 2, all instructors will be NRA-certified to teach four categories: rifle, pistol, and personal protection inside and outside the home.
“This is my first trip to Vermont, and I am thrilled to be here,” Danielson said. “A few other states have groups of women instructors, but not as put-together as this one.”
For the last four years, Clint Gray, a retired Vermont State Police lieutenant, had been teaching the ladies-only shooting clinics in the Green Mountain State alongside his wife, Mary. They were the program’s only instructors in Vermont, and traveled all over the state to teach the course.
This year, though, the Grays turned the reins over to Marsha Thompson, a retired U.S. Army master sergeant, and her team of five assistant instructors — Ellen Jareckie, Joyce Hottenstein, Leah Stewart, Shauna McIsaac-Healey and her mother, Kay McIsaac-Healey.
In her 39 years in the Army, Thompson spent 10 as the only female marksmanship instructor for Vermont. After she retired two years ago, Thompson wanted to continue to teach the sport. Now, she’s recruiting more women to become instructors.
“Eventually, I want to have four groups of female trainers to cover different locations throughout the state so we all don’t have to travel every weekend,” Thompson said.
The program teaches the basics of grip, safe handling, stance, aiming and shooting. Each course varies in the types of guns being taught.
Last Saturday, the women started with .22 caliber long rifles, then moved on to shoot .22 cowboy-action and double-action revolvers, semiautomatic .22 pistols, semiautomatic 9mm pistols and .38 special revolvers.
The Women on Target clinic also had AR-15s and .223 caliber rifles on site, but there wasn’t enough time left to shoot them.
Even after the Orlando shooting June 12, when a gunman used a Sig Sauer MCX .223 caliber rifle to kill 49 people and wound more than 50, the women haven’t heard any criticism about teaching these semiautomatic weapons.
“Often we teach women how to handle the AR-15s or the .223s as well,” Stewart said. “And we haven’t had any pushback. There is nothing wrong with AR-15s or .223s. It’s all in the shooter’s mindset, and how you use it. I think it’s good for people to know how to use these guns properly.”
“The only difference between these guns and other rifles is caliber,” Thompson said. “Any semiautomatic rifle can hold a clip with the same amount of rounds as an AR. So if the AR is going to be considered an assault rifle because of magazine size, a regular rifle technically would be too. If someone wanted to, they could even outfit a regular rifle with a drum mag.”
Stewart said that pushing more gun control is a copout. The politicians want to blame the firearm, rather than looking at the larger issue of mental illness.
“Banning a certain gun because it was used in a shooting is like killing all alligators because one killed a child,” she said.
All guns used in the clinic are on loan from the Vermont Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs. At the end of the summer, all guns will be cleaned and returned to the federation. The NRA supplies the ammo, targets, and eye and ear protection.
Any woman can take the course as many times as she wants, but right now, each course is going to cover the same information, so Danielson encourages women to bring their friends.
“If you want to continue, bring friends, and help us grow the program,” Danielson said. “Or you can also join us as an instructor and take the instructors’ course.”
Eventually, the clinic would like to offer courses to teach the next step. Once women learn to shoot, they should be taught how to fit the right gun to them, methods of concealed carry and how to clean their own guns, so they can be self-sufficient in the sport of shooting as well as in home protection.
For a full list of courses being taught this summer, visit the “Women on Target by Vermont Women” Facebook page.
by Andrew Martin
It’s official: There will be a revote on a $9.8 million school project that Hyde Park residents approved by just five votes, 261-256, on June 7.
Speculation about a revote began as soon as the votes were counted.
The project involves extensive repairs and renovations, and some outright replacement, of Hyde Park Elementary School.
A petition for a revote was taken out soon after the June vote, and a group of residents began an aggressive campaign to collect the signatures needed to force a new vote. Volunteers manned a station outside the town offices after work on weekdays to collect signatures, numerous social media posts were made, and Michael Ryan, who circulated the petition, wrote a News & Citizen column explaining why he thinks the school project can be done for millions fewer dollars.
The petition needed the signatures of 204 registered voters in Hyde Park, 10 percent of the voter checklist.
When the petition was turned in Monday to Town Clerk Kimberly Moulton, it had 312 signatures.
The Hyde Park School Board must now select a date for a revote. No board members were available before press time to comment, but Moulton is recommending a revote on Tuesday, Aug. 9 — the date of the Vermont primary election to narrow the field of candidates for governor, lieutenant governor, the Legislature and other major offices.
First, it’s far cheaper to hold one election, rather than two. Second, holding the school revote in conjunction with the primary election likely means many more voters will participate in the decision than if the school issue were the only question on the ballot.
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