Vermont Granite Museum making progress
By David Delcore
Staff Writer | April 07,2014
BARRE — The Vermont Granite Museum is still a work in progress, but organizers believe it can be a destination — both indoors and out.
On Thursday the emphasis was on the “outdoors” as a collection of museum board members, city officials, community volunteers and river experts trudged through deep snow on a largely undeveloped 12.5-acre property that will be getting some grant-funded attention in coming months.
Credit Ann Smith, executive director of the Friends of the Winooski, for writing the application for the newly awarded $5,000 watersheds grant that will cover the cost of what she characterized as an “ecological restoration master plan” for a property that is blessed with roughly 5,000 feet of riverfront.
Smith’s organization has put in a fair amount of work over the past few years removing invasive plant species from the “disturbed, but undeveloped” banks of the Stevens Branch of the Winooski River and planting native species in their place.
“This has been a place we’ve long been interested in,” Smith explained on a tour of the property that included Steve Libby of the Vermont River Conservancy.
“This whole site … to me is a very unique site,” she said. “It’s the only large, open, publicly accessible piece of riparian land on the Barre-Montpelier Road and that to me makes it special.”
However, Smith freely conceded, the industrial history of the expansive site poses some unique challenges from an ecological restoration standpoint.
Once home to Jones Brothers — a company that openly boasted it was the largest monumental works in the world — the site is underlain with granite that makes putting a shovel in the ground difficult.
The grant will finance plans to hire a restoration consultant to work with a committee, including many of those who toured the site on Thursday, to develop a comprehensive plan to restore the site and address issues associated with stormwater runoff.
With the museum pursuing plans to create a sculpture walk along an already plotted but yet-to-be-built section of bike path that will run from one end of the property to the other, the plan is viewed as a key component to successfully integrate the old Jones Brothers plant and its associated parking area with plans for the bike path segment, and the natural area that is located on the western half of the property. The restoration plan will focus primarily on that half of the property.
In addition to enlisting Smith’s assistance, museum organizers have tapped Barre resident Ellen Sivret, a retired restoration specialist with the Natural Resource Conservation Service, who has taken a keen interest in the property that she views as a rare natural asset in an otherwise urban setting.
Thursday’s site visit was the kickoff to a process that will lead to the selection of a consultant over the summer and should yield a comprehensive restoration plan by September, according to museum board member Patricia Merriam.
“I think this has the potential to be a really special destination,” said Merriam, who led Thursday’s tour and described plans to eventually place 10 strategically located “sculpture platforms” on a property that she believes can be an important recreational and cultural asset to the city.