Vt. ski town rebuilding after Irene

Posted Nov. 18, 2011, at 9:13 p.m.

MONTPELIER, Vt. — Visitors to Vermont’s ski country may be surprised to find some restaurants and stores boarded up in the valley town near Mount Snow — one of the communities hardest hit by Tropical Storm Irene— but the skiing and riding should be the same depending on the snow.

Many Wilmington businesses have already reopened or vow to do so — it’s just a matter of when.

“It’s mind-boggling to think what I have to do to think about reopening,” said Lori Downey, who with her husband hope to reopen Bean Head’s coffee shop, after losing everything in the flood — from coffee grinders, a cappuccino maker, refrigerators and freezers to panini grills, meats, cream cheeses and coffee. “I think what we’re going to have to do is start small and build our stuff back up.”

Other businesses are going full bore hoping to reopen by Thanksgiving — when second homeowners come up hoping for early season skiing — or Christmas. But the owners of the buildings that got the brunt of the flooding — like beloved Dot’s restaurant, which often had a line outside on the weekends — don’t yet know if they’ll reopen and certainly not this year.

“We just don’t have things like Dot’s,” said Cheryl Rothman, president of the Mount Snow Chamber of Commerce. “You know there’s no place to go for breakfast. It’s awful, really. Such a community hotspot so to speak, it’s just gone.”

The owners are thinking about a seasonal restaurant in the same spot, and expect they’ll have to tear down most of the current historic building because of flood damage.

So much of the center of the small town is boarded up that the chamber is trying to figure out how to spruce the place up before winter, maybe with a mural painting contest.

“The biggest thing about Wilmington is the fact that our entire business community was gone,” said Rothman, of the Aug. 28 storm that turned streams and rivers into raging waterways and carried away bridges and large segments of roads around Vermont cutting off at least a dozen communities and damaging or destroying at least 840 homes.

The slopes and buildings at Mount Snow, however, were unharmed. A snowmaking pump house that became submerged in water has been replaced. The resort hopes to open around Thanksgiving as long as it stays cool enough for it to make snow.

At Killington Resort, in another community cut off by road damage in the days after Irene, part of a lodge collapsed in the flooding. The resort has opted to replace it with a deck and two outdoor heated umbrella bars.

It also had to regrade parking lots, dredge a snowmaking pond and replace carpets and drywall in the some of the lodges that had water damage.

Farther north, parts of the Mad River Valley — home to Sugarbush and Mad River Glen — also were hit hard by flooding, though the resorts were unharmed.

American Flat Bread — a popular pizza restaurant in Waitsfield — has reopened after losing 40 cords of spit firewood for its wood-fired oven and flood damage to its offices, property and parking lot. The Mint restaurant in the center of town is now serving lunch in a local church while rebuilding and the Green Cup is seeking donations as it seeks to rebuild.

At New Hampshire’s Loon Mountain, river flooding tore away the abutments of a bridge to the resort and part of the Kankamagus Highway through the White Mountains. A temporary bridge is scheduled to be open by Thanksgiving until the damaged bridge can be repaired in the spring.

Back in Wilmington, evidence of the flooding is visible in the scars in the land and in the debris hanging high in trees, where it was deposited by flood waters — such as yarn swept away from a yarn store in town.

But many businesses have reopened, such as the Vermont House, Apres Vous, the Anchor Restaurant and others.

“Our story here is we’re reopening,” said Rothman.

And much of the $194,000 raised so far by early this month to help the flood-damaged businesses has come from out of state, from second homeowners.

“It’s a wonderful surprise to me how involved our second homeowners are with our community and how much they consider it their community,” Rothman said. “They were here immediately helping. We had so many second homeowners here downtown working alongside building owners and other town residents.”

“It’s going to be a while before Wilmington comes back,” Downey said. “And you know what, it’s going to be a long time before all of Vermont gets their bearings back.”

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