Rockingham visitor center launches Scenic Byway project

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(Host) State officials and community supporters from Rockingham celebrated the opening of a new visitors center in Bellows Falls on Monday. The center is one of ten proposed for the Connecticut River Valley in Vermont and New Hampshire. It’s part of a federally-backed Scenic Byway project that could benefit the entire region.

VPR’s Susan Keese reports.

(Keese) Vermont Lieutenant Governor Brian Dubie drove the golden spike that christened the new Waypoint visitors center. He said it symbolized a meeting of important forces in this re-emerging industrial town.

The million dollar facility will offer tourist services and information. There are also exhibits emphasizing the role of the River in the region’s history. Rockingham State Representative Mike Obuchowski said the exhibits should attract locals as well.

(Obuchowski) “For people who live here – and I’ve lived here all my life – when I first came in to the facility I was amazed at how our history was portrayed.”

(Keese) The center is located between the Connecticut River and the Bellows Falls Canal. The canal was one of the nation’s first, built to bypass the narrow Bellows Falls gorge.

Bellows Falls was also an important rail hub. The center’s architecture resembles a train depot. A replica of the Bellows Falls Arch Bridge, dismantled in 1982, rises above the platform.

Money for the project came primarily from the Federal Highway Administration, Housing Vermont and the state transportation Agency. Richard Ewald is Rockingham’s development director. He says towns on both sides of the river
have been working since 1996 to market the tristate river corridor as a federal Scenic Byway. It’s part of a trend called heritage tourism, which brings visitors to historic, working towns.

(Ewald) “The overall marketing plan is to draw visitors and businesses to our existing historic traditional commercial centers, give them information about where they are, what there is to see and do, and to promote the rest of the community.”

(Keese) Rockingham was among the first towns to apply to host a Scenic Byway Waypoint Center. Selectman Chairman Lamont Barnet says it’s one of many signs of Rockingham’s determined revitalization efforts. Barnet says the town’s recent move to acquire the Bellows Falls Hydro Dam through eminent domain is another such sign.

(Barnet) “It’s an indication of the kind of community we are. We’re a community of visionaries, I think, and we want to take control of our future and our destinies. Certainly with the hydro we want to take control of our energy concerns.”

(Keese) For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Susan Keese in Rockingham.

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