Fairground proposed as economic development tool for Chester


By Shawn Cunningham

After more than a year of discussions on economic development, the Chester Select Board heard a  proposal and a request for seed money to establish a fairground from artist and chainsaw carver Barre Pinske at its Wednesday, March 19 meeting.

Barre Pinkse in the field on Route 103 across from the Heritage Deli that he believes could make a fairgrounds. Photo by Shawn Cunningham

Barre Pinkse in the field on Route 103 across from the Heritage Deli that he believes could make a fairgrounds and economic development engine. Click photo to enlarge photos. Photo by Shawn Cunningham

Pinske noted that he had read about the board’s economic development discussions in The Chester Telegraph and went to Town Hall to propose that the 7.5 acre field adjacent to and south of the American Legion and across from the Heritage Bakery and Deli be purchased and turned into a multipurpose fairground. The fairground would include a covered shelter for events, flat open areas for parking and events like his chainsaw carving festival, a shed for concerts and a visitor’s center to entice people driving by to stop and explore Chester.

He expected that this would attract business to the shops, inns and restaurants and that money would circulate through the town.

Pinske created a initial model of the proposed plan. Route 103 is on the bottom, the access road to the American Legion is to the left.

Pinske created a initial model of the proposed plan. Route 103 is on the bottom, the access road to the American Legion is to the left.

Recalling the duck hunting of his youth, Pinske compared Route 103 to a flyway for ducks, likening the proposed fairground to decoys. He said, currently “we are not doing the best to get the ducks to the decoys.” The site – with some alterations and additions could be home to the carving festival, fireworks, some Winter Carnival events, an agricultural fair and a flea market that would give local entrepreneurs a chance to sell goods that they make. Pinske said he hoped that other uses would be suggested by local groups and individuals.

Pinske proposes renting the field for three years (at $1,500 per year) and beginning to make it usable by doing some grading and planting hay.

“What are you looking for,” asked board chair John DeBenedetti, “a read on this?”

Take The Telegraph Poll: Would you support a fairground and visitor center as an economic tool for Chester?

“I was hoping to get a check for $1,500 to get started,” replied Pinske, “Why are you laughing?”

“I get the concept,” said board member Derek Suursoo. “My favorite way is to have an investor who wants to do it with (town) help.” Pinske said he could do it himself, but he needs to run his own business and this project can’t be done as well without an organization behind it for administration.

“Will this draw people to the Green or away?” asked board member Tom Bock. “I’d like to talk with people on the Green about this.”

The board asked Pinske to meet with town manager David Pisha to work out how something like this would work and get back to the board. Pinske pointed out that if the site is not secured, it will be planted with corn and thus not available for another year.

“The risk we are taking is small,” said Pinske. “It won’t break the bank. We could be leaders with respect to (doing development) in small rural communities. The town needs to have some skin in the game.”

The discussion closed with Suursoo asking Pinske to “… please be patient as we deal with the cash issues.”

Water and Sewer Rates

“Back to reality” said member Bock as the board turned to a discussion of the town’s financials including proposed new water and sewer rates.

According to Pisha, rates will have to go up to stabilize the financials of the sewer and water departments and if a study by the Dufresne Group, which is an engineering firm, shows that projects will be needed or state requirements change or there are emergencies, rates will also have to rise. Pisha pointed out that while there are 570 water user accounts, 448 of those use 18,000 gallons per quarter or less. He has worked out a rate schedule that evens out the ups and downs in the system, noting that finances are too dynamic to let rates remain static.

Under the proposed rates, the current base rate per quarter would rise from $20 to $34.25 while the rate per thousand gallons would drop from $2.95 to $1. Pisha reckons that under this regime, smaller users would see an increase of .31 percent while large users would see a decrease of around 4 percent.

It was noted that the very smallest users — some using just pennies worth of water each quarter — will see a nearly 100 percent increase.

Suursoo then retrieved a flip chart from the back of the room and began drawing graphs of how the proposed rate schedule would affect customers across the use spectrum – some having much greater savings and some paying more. He suggested several fixes to even out the effect and make it fairer. After several sheets of graphs, the board asked Pisha to go back to the formula to see if he could incorporate some of the ideas discussed.

Roadside markers & silence from the state

The topic of roadside markers for historic locations was also discussed, but historical society president Ron Patch was unable to make the meeting so no one was sure what locations were being considered. Markers commemorating the visits of Presidents McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt as well as Daniel Webster were mentioned as well as markers for the Chester Academy building and the Yosemite Fire House. The markers cost $1,500 each and it was noted that there is a grant available to cover the cost of a marker, but not its maintenance.

Pisha and DeBenedetti remarked that the letters that the board has sent out to agencies and legislators regarding the town’s concern with legislation over taxing solar farms and changes to the highway funding mechanism have – with the exception of state Rep. Leigh Dakin – received no responses. Suursoo advised that the board should stay on top of the situation without angering the State of Vermont. “I don’t have a problem with annoying them,” responded board member Bill Lindsay.

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  1. I fully support Barre’s fairground vision and appreciate his “let’s make something happen” attitude. Chester is full of active community members, like-minded people who want this sleepy village to thrive! Let’s pool our resources and make this happen. It’s not a self-serving vision. It’s an effort that would require many hands and the benefits would trickle down to members throughout the area. Villagers unite and become the change we seek. We cannot ask the universe for blessings without putting in the work. I can already see a group of people gathered at the field ready to work. This fairground vision has to become a reality. Sign me up.

  2. Barre Pinske says:

    Sam, Thank you for the comments.

    I hope people don’t feel as though I am defending the project when I respond. The more open dialog we have now the more we can learn from each other. I agree as to the value of the land. I go to the Pond Hill Ranch Rodeo and park on a hayfield. It would be great to include an agricultural component aside from the farmers market in this project. Could we include a community garden area? Would people like that and use it? The initial plan is to simply switch from a cornfield to hayfield and yes I have been talking with the land owner for over a year.

    The plan calls for post and beam structures and shed roofs. A visitor center placed on high ground in a small upper corner of the lot would be the only building with a foundation. I see that completed in two or three years with much planning.

    The town has been given land along the Williams River across from the Stone Hearth Inn by FEMA. Could we turn that back to fields, could that work as a trade? What we are addressing here is how to move into the future with the lessons we now know about the environment and the new economy. I make a living from our visitors and the locals.

    I desire more like business, successful business, energy from young people with goals and dreams and more cultural events. It can be depressing around here with so little going on and so many people struggling. We have many places for sale that are not selling, an older population on fixed incomes and many people on assistance. Everyone is valuable and so is the land we live on. I’m proposing a slice of funky Americana, on a small very visible piece of land, with very little environmental impact, providing culture and opportunity for all our residents in hopes we can bring more income, fun and job growth. …

    Is it beyond our local government’s ability or maybe responsibility to help provide opportunities for residents so they can make a living to pay their bills, add to their income by selling a craft item, enrich their lives by having a place to hear music or see an oxen pull? I’m working 10 hours a day I cannot get ahead enough to paint my building.

    It’s not easy right now. That is why we are talking economic development and that is why I’m including cultural fun. … The festival park is simple, inexpensive, low impact, opportunity place to start. We can set the stage for how we are seen by people coming into town. We can get tourists to stop and encourage them to shop. Hopefully folks will start opening funky shops because they will know they can sell their wares from success at the market. Plant this seed, buy a lottery ticket, sit and watch — what are we going to do?

  3. Sam Comstock says:

    This particular piece of ground is a bit of a rarity in Chester and in all of Vermont – it is classified as “Prime” farmland by the USDA NRCS. Less than 2% of the land in Vermont is as good as this land is for agricultural uses.

    Unfortunately, Prime soils also makes nice, easy parking lots and building sites (The American Legion building and parking lot were put onto Prime soils, too, with minimal site prep required). This is a nationwide issue, but we don’t hear a lot about it in this area because so little of Vermont has Prime soils (my own land is largely gravel and rock).

    The Chester Town Plan says:

    Farms have historically been important to the Town’s economy, food supply, and cultural heritage. There are only a few active farms in Chester now, but there are many other properties with hayfields or other open space that contribute to the land use patterns and aesthetic qualities that make the Town a desirable place to live, work, and visit. In addition, large, contiguous areas of prime agricultural soils (as defined by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service) might be valuable for future farming. The potential for agricultural use and production should not be impaired in designated agricultural areas. Cluster development could be considered in these areas for the preservation of open lands.

    I love a good fair, but developing Prime agricultural soils should be done with considerable caution.

    As an aside, it would irk me to discover someone promoting my land for development – I would hope the developers/promoters of this are working with, and not behind, the landowners.

  4. MJ Miles says:

    The Town of Chester sometimes bites off its nose to spite its face. Mr. Pinske has presented a very good idea that could blossom into a wonderful reality. This town has a declining tax base. We seem to fund everyone who comes with 150 signatures anything they want. After years of watching our town at the town meeting give away money that everyone pays in taxes, I just wonder how you expect this town to survive. Foreclosures, lack of home sales, anyone trying to sell a property knows few people want to live here because the cost of living is high, the schools are really not what they used to be and the cost for the poorer quality is high.
    This town needs to invite people to want to and can AFFORD to live here: new families that can increase our school enrollment and better our schools and increase our tax base by living here and shopping here. If you want the town to disappear into the hillside, well that is exactly what we are doing. If there was ever a sound investment, $1,500 to try it out sure is one. Learn from those around us who are getting it right. Okemo has concerts that bring in off- season money.
    How would the Green feel? I think pretty good. It isn’t competition. It is an accent to increase their business. If you come to a venue in Chester don’t you need a place to stay, eat and why not shop? Think outside of the box. Not doing so has made our town a bedroom community. We simply don’t have the pop that we need to make our community vital.
    I think it is worth looking into and it is outside of the center of town on a road that really has NO APPEAL. Make it appealing.
    Thank you Barre,
    MJ Miles

  5. Greg Hart says:

    I love the open minded, forward thinking nature of our town’s selectmen. Now back to reality…


    I would love to see a fairground for events like Barre said. You need to have something to stop the traffic going to the mountain and get some of the tourist money spent into Chester. You can also have a country fair there a few times a year, so, “yes” on the fairground.

  7. As a small business owner and a Green Mountain alum, I think Chester is long past due for a proposal such as Barre is suggesting. I recently contacted Fritz Wendlandt, the music director at Green Mountain Union High, in regards to a lack of culture in the community and my desire to see music play a more prominent role.

    The creation of a dedicated fairground would be widely beneficial. There is tremendous local talent ranging from musicians to craftsmen, tradesmen and restaurateurs that I believe would love an opportunity to showcase themselves. With the dissolution of the Windsor County Ag Fair in Springfield, this area really has no summer event to look forward to. Plus if you will remember, the Green Mountain Festival Series used to attract people from all over.

    Studies show that a lack of cultured activity will breed boredom and we all know boredom leads to other less than desirable activities. Let’s give our community something to do. The revenue from these events would be beneficial, sponsorships could easily be sold, musicians are plentiful. This would bolster tourism and a sense of community immensely. Our company would be on board to assist in creating a summer and winter carnival/fair hands down. I think this would be a wise investment for Chester.