A Fight for Preservation

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WILLOUGHBYWESTMORE - Lake Willoughby is Beverly Decker's home. This is where she has created her life, surrounded by the lake's landscape, which to her, has always stood so naturally beautiful. For many area-residents like Decker, Lake Willoughby doesn't need to keep up with the theme of progression that seems to captivate so many aspects of modern-day lifestyles. To them, Lake Willoughby is perfect, just the way it is.

Decker has been leading the group, Protect Willoughby, since 2016 alongside her partner, Heather Bagley. This is an organization composed of passionate individuals, all dedicated to the preservation of the south end of the lake. As many have already heard, this is where the Vermont Department of Forest, Parks, and Recreation is planning to implement a major construction project.

Currently, the state's plans include three parking areas, which will be able to accommodate approximately 100 cars and a loop large enough for tour-buses, a viewing platform, handicap accessible trails, and composting toilets.

In a recent interview with the Caledonian Record, Louis Bushey, a stewardship forester for the state, stated that the work being done at the lake is meant to do two things: improve safety for visitors, and eliminate erosion issues. Decker agreed that upfront, this is an explanation that anyone would find perfectly reasonable. However, in her opinion, the state's motives behind the project aren't quite so one-dimensional.

At the commencement of Protect Willoughby's efforts, group members did agree with the fact that parking had become an issue. "It has been growing. There have been a lot more cars than people. But part of that is due to the fact that Forests and Parks improved the paths all throughout that area. They put in boardwalks and extensive new pathways, which of course, has encouraged people to come," said Decker.

So she and the members of Protect Willoughby constructed a plan that they felt would better the safety of those visiting the area, while still maintaining its natural integrity. "Essentially, our proposal was to have one parking lot, close to the water, that would accommodate handicap visitors and cars that have boats on top of them, so those folks would be able to park close to the water's edge. And then the other parking lot would be south of the Notch House, where there could be a beautiful woodland path that people could walk to get to the very tiny beach."

She also went on to discuss their initial request for "no-parking" signs, in order for drivers to clearly see where parking was safe, and where it wasn't. According to her, this was another one of many solutions the state decided to ignore, allowing the area to become more of a hazard-zone. "They really let it go, and I think they did it insidiously. They've wanted to do this since the nineties. So they let it go, and they let it deteriorate to the point where they had to do something drastic."

According to Decker, if the plans are implemented as they were presented to the public in July of 2017, the only real concession to their protest is the installment of composting toilets.

In her opinion, this is a sacred area, one that possesses a heritage deserving much more respect than it's receiving.

She then discussed the official Willoughby State Forest brochure, pointing out that the area of approximately 1000 acres has been designated as a "natural area", by the state of Vermont, and is included in the Vermont Fragile Area Registry. Within the brochure it specifically states, "Development within the boundaries of the natural area are prohibited."

In addition, because the project is happening through a state-entity, they are not required to go through Act 250, which investigates whether or not the construction will interfere with any sacred sites. In Decker's opinion, it's a process the state is happy to avoid. "I don't think they want to. I think all along they've planned to have a state park here, and that's the frustration. After working on this for so long, it's crystal clear where they want to go with it. They want a state park."

Decker then discussed the fact that the idea is supported by Jay Peak and Burke Mountain, as they want a place to bring their tourists. She stated that tour-buses require a certain radius for turning, which explains the size of the loop in the upper parking lot.

"For economic development, the store's gonna sell two more six packs of beer, and the campground will sell another five hotdogs. Jay Peak though, Jay Peak and Burke Mountain will have a destination for their buses," she said.

Throughout the conversation, it was clear that this is a topic extremely difficult for Decker to discuss, as her heart lies within this land.

Speaking with her about the project was enlightening, as she shared her research, and her experiences following the development's progress. Yet somehow, discussing anything and everything unrelated to the issue seemed to provide even more insight into her passion. She described her childhood, growing up surrounded by family and nature, always appreciating this incredible area. And later in life, it was here that she met her great love. Together they built a home, built a life, and explored the world; always returning to the most beautiful place of all.

When she started Protect Willoughby in the summer of 2016, Decker was confident that resident's voices could make a difference. "I went to locals to see if they knew what was going on. They all said to me, 'Beverly, it's the state. They're going to do what they're going to do. You're wasting your time.' And I said, 'No, if we gather together and we show them that this is our town, that this is our cultural heritage, they're going to listen to us.' I don't think I was right."

When asked what will happen next, Decker couldn't answer. Despite all of the anger expressed throughout the conversation, she went silent, broken by the reminiscence of her tireless battle. She then quietly replied, "The children of your generation will not see this place the way that it is now."

Decker has put her heart and soul into Protect Willoughby. What started as persistent attendance to public forums, scribbling down notes on scraps of paper, has evolved into a full-fledged organization. Protect Willoughby has received the support of community members, as well as hundreds of people across the country, all who share a common love for the lake.

At this point in time, Decker and Bagley are looking for new leadership, as the frustration of leading the effort has become overbearing. "So many phone calls to so many people and hitting continuous brick walls," she said. "It's like they're all working together. We need someone else that's got new energy and new ideas. Now if someone came up with an idea and said, 'let's do this,' Heather and I would be right there helping."

For more detailed information about the project, you can visit Protect Willoughby's Facebook page, and the Vermont Forest, Parks, and Recreation website.

Below are the current project plans, presented by the state in July of 2017.

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