Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Vermont needs your help

Unless you have been living under a rock for the last week, you will have heard about Hurricane Irene, later downgraded to Tropical Storm Irene. Whatever you want to call it, a lot of wind and a huge amount of rain moved slowly up the U.S. eastern seaboard, made landfall in North Carolina and worked its way up through the New England states and southern Quebec. A lot of news coverage was devoted to the storm's effect on New York City, which was less than predicted, but not enough coverage has been given to the catastrophic flood damage that occurred in some areas of North Carolina, New Jersey, New York and our favourite state, Vermont. For a good summary of the storm and disaster areas, read the BBC news story found here: 

If you can't imagine the level of disaster I'm talking about, check out this photo gallery on the website of the Burlington Free Press: click here.

Southern and central Vermont has been particularly hard hit. Jay Peak and the surrounding area was in the storm's path but, from reports I have heard, seems to have been spared major damage. I've been a bit obsessed with the story lately and have been looking at news reports and pictures every day. It is mind boggling and heart breaking. Wherever you live, imagine it flooded with several feet of fast moving water filled with debris. Imagine your car, possessions, even your house, wrecked and perhaps even swept away. Imagine the downtown of your small town flooded, water right up the the window ledges of every storefront. Some lives have been lost and others changed forever. Imagine how much work and money it is going to take to get things back to some form of normal.

There is never a good time for a natural disaster but this couldn't have happened to Vermont and New York at a worse time. For many of the hard-hit areas, tourism is a huge part of the local economy. This weekend is the last big holiday of the summer season, the last chance to snag the those tourist dollars before slipping into the quiet times of autumn. What would the tourist find this weekend? Closed hiking trails, blocked roads, scenic lookouts that are less than scenic, quaint towns looking like war zones, charming covered bridges missing in action, uprooted trees everywhere, restaurants and bars shuttered up and, quite honestly, not much reason to stick around. Not to mention that many of the potential tourists are probably dealing with hurricane-related cleanup of their own, so won't be leaving home anyway.

Hot on the heels of Labor Day is Leaf-Looking Season. The fall colors are a huge tourist draw in Vermont and other areas in the east, including where I live. Will the scenic drives be open in three weeks? Will the charming B&Bs be ready to receive guests? Will the Alchemist Pub be open to slake the thirst of leaf-peepers? I don't know but I hope so. If they aren't, go for a drive anyway. Shop locally, sleep where you can and contribute to the local economy without being a drag on it. Fall is a key driver in the tourism economies of these areas and the tourists need to come. This year, the tourists need to be sympathetic, flexible and open minded. In my experience, these are not common traits in a lot of tourists but you never know. For a local's perspective, and an impassioned plea to support Vermont by coming for a visit, check out Steve Wright's excellent blog post on the Jay Peak site: The Business of Being Vermont

The obvious question ends up being: How can I help? The easiest and most effective way to help is to contribute money. Whether you like the name or not, if you are a skier, you are a tourist, and you contribute to the the tourism economy. If you can afford to ski, you can afford to help. I challenge anyone reading this blog to donate the cost of one day of skiing to disaster relief. Here are some ways to donate (I got this info from the Governor of Vermont's blog:

Vermont Disaster Relief Fund
If you would like to help Vermonters impacted by the devastation of Irene, please make a donation to the statewide Vermont Disaster Relief Fund by dropping off a check made out to the fund at any local United Way office.  The Vermont Disaster Relief Fund was created by the United Ways of Vermont in cooperation with the executive board of the Vermont Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (Vermont VOAD) and Vermont Emergency Management (VEM) to be used specifically for long term recovery.  The United Ways of Vermont is the fiscal agent for the fund.  Expenditures from the fund will be used 100% for the unmet long term needs of survivors from the Irene disaster, and decisions will be made by Long Term Recovery Committees recognized by VOAD and Vermont Emergency Management.
For more information on the Vermont Disaster Relief Fund, or to donate online, go to

American Red Cross – Vermont and New Hampshire Valley Chapter
Phone: 802-660-9130
The American Red Cross is a humanitarian organization, led by volunteers, that provides relief to victims of disasters and helps people prevent, prepare for, and respond to emergencies. Contributions will support people affected by disasters across Vermont and the New Hampshire Upper Valley. The American Red Cross provides shelter, food, and other basic human needs following a disaster.
If you want to help folks in New York State, check out the links on The Saratoga Skier or Harvey Road.

This image from the Burlington Free Press pretty much sums it up for me. Resilient and creative  Vermonter herds pigs with his classic Perception Dancer kayak:

Update, 9/1/11:a couple of new web sites.
Helping Vermonters Help Vermonters
A grassroots site providing links and updates of local initiatives: "The goal of the website is to be an informational resource for volunteers ready to help, listing the who, what, when, where and how of everything related to this natural disaster."

VT Irene Flood Relief Fund 
Helping small business after the flood. Founded by Montpelier resident Todd Bailey, the fund is committed to distributing 100% of donations to Vermont businesses in need.