Originally published in the Rutland Herald and Rutland County Express on Dec. 29, 2011.

Two thousand eleven is almost behind us, and it’s a year I think almost all of us are happy to put in the rearview. But before we ring in 2012, let’s take a moment to look back. Borrowing from Twitter, I’ve compiled my list of the biggest stories trending in #RutVT in 2011.

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[Originally published in the Rutland County Express on 3/3/11]  

How would we make it through the winter without a good thaw?

It seems that every year, when the sky is at its grayest and the snow is at its deepest, Mother Nature hits the pause button and treats us to a day or two of springtime weather.

After the recent demoralizing Groundhog Day snowstorm — dubbed “SnOMG” by the local Twitter community — it looked like any chance for an early spring was buried deeper than the shopping carts on Church Street.

(It also looks like, as a nation, we need to stop placing our vernal hopes in the paws of a capricious and indifferent rodent.)

That storm was, of course, followed by another storm. And another. And, possibly, another. (I think. Honestly, I’ve lost track; this whole winter has just been a frigid blur of whiteness.)

Then, there was that pipe-busting, sub-zero cold snap, because, well, why not?

After all that, something had to give weather-wise — if only so we could shave off a foot or three from all the towering, immovable snow banks. The pile in the Rutland Plaza parking lot was about one truckload of snow away from installing a rope tow and rechristening it “Mt. WalMart.”

Our reprieve came recently when temps began creeping out of the negatives and continued to climb into the mid-50s. Having given up paying attention to the forecast out of despair sometime in early January, the thaw was a total surprise to me.

The first day caught me unprepared — by the time I got out of work, the sun was dipping below the horizon and I feared I had missed what might be the only respite of warm weather between now and Memorial Day (a conservative estimate).

Not so.

Later that week we were treated to another, even warmer, day. As I got out of my car downtown that morning I was struck not by a cold blast of winter, but by golden sunlight and a warm breeze.

Coffee in hand, I slowed down my usually brisk walk to work as I decided where I would go for a run that afternoon.

Since the snow has fallen, I have been confined running inside on a treadmill — the recreational equivalent of a hamster wheel. While the facilities at my gym are nice, I was thrilled for a chance to get back outside.

A thaw is like a reverse snow day, and in my opinion schools should be closed whenever the temperature gets above 50 degrees between January and March.

Fortunately, this particular thaw did have the good sense to occur during February break, which was a nice treat for the kids. On my run that afternoon, I saw a group of them bombing down Church Hill on Hillside Road, some wearing only T-shirts, their heavy winter coats discarded at the top of the hill.

The run itself was rewarding despite some unforeseen pitfalls. In my eagerness to get outside, I had neglected to remember that not all the snow had melted. The snow banks and ice were still there, now accompanied with puddles and, in some places, mud — combining to make the streets and sidewalks even more harrowing than they already are.

These were things I had not considered when I chose my route that included Woodstock Avenue and Stratton Road — at 3 p.m. My run quickly turned into race for my life as I leapt over deep puddles, skated across icy sidewalks and scaled hardened snow banks when cars got too close.

By the end of my quick 3-mile loop, my feet were soaked and my shoes were stained with dirty slush, but it was worth it.

As I headed home with the sunroof open, the winter chill slowly creeping back, I considered firing up the grill, calling some friends and continuing my springtime welcome party into the evening. The plan was abandoned , however, when I realized that, despite the thaw, the grill was still packed in some semi-deep snow.

I realize now that, perhaps, my enthusiasm was a bit premature. As I write this column, watching the most recent storm of the century of the week pile up outside my window, the thaw feels like a fleeting fantasy — as if it never happened at all.

[Originally published in the Rutland Herald on 2/24/11] 

Once again, Rutland is at a crossroads. With the expansion and renovation of the Giorgetti arena, we are faced with a choice that, either way, will have a lasting impact on our community.

Voting yes allows us to put another piece of the puzzle into place. If you haven’t noticed, Rutland has been experiencing a renaissance of sorts in the last few years. Momentum has been building, and you need only take a look around Rutland to see the proof.

In the downtown, the Paramount Theatre is thriving – a success story that a decade ago seemed unlikely. Friday Night Live has become a tradition that celebrates community all summer long.

Likewise, the farmers’ market continues to grow, bringing fresh, local food to the people year round.

Pine Hill Park, an unequivocal treasure, continues to garner national acclaim as a recreation destination.

All these examples have had and will continue to have both cultural and economic impacts on Rutland. Beyond that, they have given us a sense of pride – pride that was captured so deftly last year in “The Blood in this Town,” a film that demonstrated what Rutland is capable of when it rolls ups its sleeves and sets its mind on a goal.

But while the film celebrated Rutland’s spirit and the energy of groups like the Creative Economy, the Herald has rightfully pointed out all the work cannot be done on the backs of volunteer efforts and grassroots can-do-it-ness.

As the Herald stated, “it’s time for the general populace to step forward.” It is an investment that is sound, necessary and, at an average cost to the taxpayer of $15 a year, equitable.

Alderman Sean Sargeant put it simply: “We must be willing to invest in ourselves before others will invest in Rutland.”

Opponents say that infrastructure issues should take precedent. That’s a fair concern; however, I don’t think anyone in City Hall believes that renovating and expanding Giorgetti should or will come at the cost of improving our sewers.

Indeed, there are serious infrastructure issues facing the city. We need to address them all. Mayor Louras is correct in identifying this rec center as an infrastructure project every bit as essential to the health and future of Rutland as sewers, roads and sidewalks.

Let’s look at our current recreation infrastructure for a moment. Dana School was a temporary fix. Outdated and inefficient, it is a Band-Aid that was never intended to meet the needs of a real, functional recreation center that fully serves a community of our size.

I do not believe people who oppose this project are anti-recreation or anti-community. Opponents have said that given the current economic climate, this is not the right time to be pursuing such a project. Well, when is the “right time”?

As Castleton State College President Dave Wolk said in his recent op-ed in support of the project, building a rec center was discussed and abandoned when he was on the Board of Alderman – over 30 years ago. Are we going to kick the can down the road yet again? Are we going to fall into the all too familiar Rutland “rut” of taking one step forward and two steps back?

Voting yes is a vote for breaking that cycle. It is a vote that says you want to continue moving Rutland forward. At the end of the day, this vote represents the direction in which we want to take Rutland. We have come so far in the last few years, and we need to continue building that momentum.

There are a number of other projects on the horizon, each one promising to do its part to help Rutland continue to turn the corner. On West Street, Community College of Vermont will build a brand new campus, adding activity and development to a long-neglected section of the downtown.

A block away, the Center Street Alley project will likely break ground this year, providing the community with a safe, usable public gathering space and increased opportunities for business development downtown.

Also this year, construction on the first leg of the Creek Path will begin, another recreational asset that will very tangibly connect Giorgetti to the rest of the community.

Separately, each of these projects is a catalyst. They create a ripple effect that will stimulate economic growth and community pride. But the sum is greater than its parts. Together they represent the renaissance so many of us have envisioned and been working so hard for. The Giorgetti Arena is an essential part of that vision.

On March 1, Rutland will be given an opportunity. Will we take it?

Get more information on the Giorgetti project HERE.

[Originally published in the Rutland County Express.] Like most people living and working in the nonprofit and community development world, Jenny Nixon Carter is always on the move. As executive director of the Rutland Area Physical Activity Coalition, that fact is particularly accurate – “physical activity” is in her organization’s name. Fortunately, the energetic mother of two is up for the job.

A native of the state of Washington, Nixon Carter grew up on the Olympic Peninsula in the city of Port Angeles.

“It’s pretty much the northwestern tip of the country,” she said.

For college, she headed down to the University of Washington in Seattle, soaking up the culture and coffee of what we both agree is an ideal city for people who don’t like cities.

In 1993, Nixon Carter left the Northwest behind and landed on the East Coast where she spent time in Woods Hole, Mass., putting her chemosensory biology degree to use.

However, she soon began to lose her yen for the science side of the environment.

“I wanted to move toward policy and environmental issues,” she said.

So she enrolled in Vermont Law School in South Royalton, where she studied environmental law. While there, Nixon Carter also met her husband Andrew, a Castleton native.

After getting their degrees, the two moved back to Seattle where they practiced until 2005, when they returned to the Green Mountains for good.

“We always knew we wanted to live in Vermont,” Nixon Carter said. “There’s a good balance of work and family life here.”

She also notes that “commuting” around these parts is unparalleled. Nixon Carter lives in Brandon, but she and her husband both work in Rutland. Her husband occasionally bikes to work.

“Even when you do have a 30-minute drive, it’s usually on some gorgeous country road with a great view,” she said.

But why drive when you can bike, walk, run and hike?

Since 2003, Nixon Carter’s organization, RAPAC, has been putting that very question to the residents of Rutland County.

RAPAC’s mission is threefold: shaping policy by advocating bike- and pedestrian-friendly infrastructure improvements; coordinating community programs like WalkRutland and BikeSmart; and promoting education and outreach, addressing the need for increased physical activity.

Nixon Carter became executive director of RAPAC in 2007. The job is a perfect marriage of her passions.

“It merges the things I love: working on policy, promoting recreation and addressing environmental issues,” she said.

With recent studies that have identified Rutland County as one of the state’s least healthy counties, RAPAC’s work is all the more important and necessary. Of particular concern, are our high obesity rates in both adults and in children.

Nixon Carter is undaunted by this challenge. She explains that getting individuals and families to take better care of themselves physically requires a shift in culture.

To some extent, she already sees that shift occurring in Rutland.

“I’m seeing more and more activity and events,” Nixon Carter said.

Groups like the Marble Valley Runners (a RAPAC coalition partner) and Pine Hill Park’s Summer Sunset 5k trail run/walk series regularly draw big numbers to their events. Indeed, the current popularity of Pine Hill is a testament to Rutland’s increased desire to be outside and active.

It’s a start, but there is more work to be done.

Looking to the future, Nixon Carter hopes to see more visible demonstrations of physical activity around the area, which includes improving infrastructure for pedestrians and cyclists.

“We need more projects and more visibility. That will lead to more use,” she said. “And that’s what will begin to really change the culture.”

In the meantime, Nixon Carter is content to keep working and taking advantage of all the Rutland County has to offer – enjoying the outdoors with her family whenever possible.

“This is one of the most beautiful places to live,” she says of the area’s recreational assets. “You can walk out your front door and in five minutes be at a trailhead or a lake. That’s unique and incredible.”

[Originally published in the Rutland County Express on 5/27/10.] Seth Webb is exactly where he wants to be. Just over three months into his new job as director of economic development and tourism for the town of Killington, he is still getting his footing – meeting all the major players, understanding the area and learning its, at times, complicated history.

Webb has taken to this task with the same enthusiasm and determination that runs throughout his résumé.

A graduate of Kenyon College in Ohio, Webb has more than a decade of experience in marketing, special events, tourism and economic development. He has worked for municipal and state governments both domestically and abroad.

From 1998 to 2001, Webb worked in New York City for the Marketing & Events division of the Parks and Recreation Department under the Giuliani Administration. Through public and private partnerships, the division grew into a multi-million dollar source of revenue.

After New York, Webb joined up with the Peace Corps. He headed to Guatemala, where he was a municipal development officer in San Juan Cotzal working on healthcare, clean water, small business and tourism development projects.

Back in the states, he took a job in Chicago with the Illinois state government where, among other projects, he worked to develop the state’s first regional economic development plan and launch a statewide beautification initiative.

Most recently, Webb returned New York to work for Civic Entertainment Group, a marketing and promotions firm that specializes in municipal marketing – what it calls “promotions with a public spirit.” – partnering with companies like CNN, A&E and the White House.

With such an impressive résumé, what brought Webb to Killington? It wasn’t the pay. He noted that he earns significantly less here, but his quality of life makes it worthwhile.

“I’m still working like crazy – weekends, going to meetings every night – but I get to do it here,” Webb said at Killington’s town offices, which sits just past the town recreation center along a winding, scenic stretch of River Road.

According to Webb, he’s been trying to find a way back to New England for a while. When he was younger, he spent time working in New Hampshire at Rockywold-Deephaven Camps, a family friendly retreat situated on the southern edge the White Mountains.

“Killington was an opportunity to do something that meshed with my skills set,” Webb said. “And do it someplace with strong brand names like Killington and Vermont.”

Webb recognizes that the strength of that brand is in outdoor recreation.

As director of economic development and tourism, Webb is tasked with enhancing the town’s tourism-based economy and exploring other ways to diversify Killington’s economy. To achieve this goal, Webb and his staff must bring together the geographically and economically disparate elements that make up the Killington community: the resort, the Chamber of Commerce, small business owners and citizens. The town’s Economic Development and Tourism Commission is a cross-section of these groups.

Historically, these divisions have not only created barriers within the Killington community, but have also been noted throughout the region – particularly, the gulf that has, at times, existed between Rutland and Killington.

“That disconnect doesn’t exist for me,” Webb said. “I don’t have that baggage.”

With 60,000 people in the region, Webb regards Rutland as a key market, asset and partner.

“We can do more if we do it together.”

One effort that will very tangibly bridge this divide is Webb’s proposal to establish Routes 4 and 100 as Vermont Scenic Byways. This designation would make the region eligible for grant money to support marketing projects and infrastructure improvements.

Back on the hill, Webb has been working closely with the resort to build up Killington as a year-round destination. The resort, of course, takes the lead in the wintertime, but the town has a greater role to play in the summer and fall. Such events include The Killington Classic motorcycle rally, a summer concert series, a film festival and the return of the Killington Stage Race.

Looking ahead, Webb is optimistic and excited about new opportunities to promote Killington and the region. Part of his job is identifying ways in which the town can diversify itself economically – expanding educational opportunities with partners like Green Mountain College, growing its retirement community and telecommuting population, and exploring renewable energy projects. Ambitious, to be sure, but not out of the question considering how far Webb and his commission has come in such a short period of time

In the meantime, Webb is content to be doing what he loves in a place where the morning commute is a daily reminder of why he’s here.

I’m not a runner. I like to run, but I won’t be completing a marathon anytime soon. To be honest, even a half-marathon seems a bit overly ambitious to me. I have friends who do this – spending weeks or months ahead of a race training, waking up at ungodly hours and running increasingly obscene distances all in preparation for that big day when they will wake up at an ungodly hour and run an obscene distance.

To the outsider, running is the most futile form of recreation ever created. People who don’t run are often confounded by what motivates people to do it. Given that in other sports, running is usually a form of conditioning or punishment that most come to revile, the fact that someone would do it willingly seems slightly masochistic. Even the guy in the original story of Marathon had a purpose and destination for his run. (And don’t forget, he died afterwards.)

Yet people run. I run. Like I said, I don’t foresee myself setting any records anytime soon, but I do enjoy it. Running relaxes me at the end of a stressful day. And despite what nonrunners might say, it is rewarding. There is a feeling of accomplishment when you finish. Often, that feeling manifests itself painfully, but that’s all the more reason to go out again tomorrow to increase your stamina and keep your muscles loose.

As we all know, Rutland has taken its lumps for being one of Vermont’s least healthy counties. The sad irony is that Rutlanders have access to a wealth of recreational resources. Organizationally, we have a vibrant community of runners. The Rutland Area Physical Activity Coalition and the Marble Valley Runners organize events and activities throughout the year. The Rutland Recreation Department also features a weekly evening running series at Pine Hill during the summer. Beyond running, the Rec. also offers a variety of programming. Classes are abundant and affordable.

When it comes to running, I prefer to go it alone. Occasionally, I’ll bring along a friend, but for the most part I like to be solo – just me and my iPod. The one benefit I have noticed from running with a partner is that I’m less likely to wuss out when I get tired.

That being said, I’ve long since given up on running with those marathon people who like to chat the whole way because they never get winded. They’re quoting last week’s episode of “The Office” while I’m gasping for air, barely able to interject a single “That’s what she said.”

And at the end, it’s always the same patronizing “That was a good run” comment. Don’t lie; I know you’ll be laughing about this with your distance runner friends later on at one of your meetings. (I’m pretty sure that people who run marathons don’t meet regularly, but if they did, I’m guessing that a portion of that time would be devoted to talking about lame people they’ve run with).

So where does one run in Rutland? I can’t speak for everyone, but over the years, I’ve found a variety of decent routes that I frequent. They come in three categories: city, country and off-road.

1) City: Running in the city is an adventure. While it may not offer the steep inclines of routes outside the city, Rutland offers up an even greater challenge: You may die at any moment. Traffic, potholes, loose dogs, uneven sidewalks – the city’s terrain can be more treacherous than any of Pine Hill’s most vicious trails. But it’s a thrill. Usually, I start out at Rutland High School on Stratton Road.

Pros: This loop takes me onto Main Street and Woodstock Avenue where I’ve found that running with an audience make me push myself harder.

Cons: The pollution from the cars is pretty unhealthy, and the sidewalks are usually covered in sand. This has potential for causing a nasty spill, which can turn the previous pro of running for an audience into an epically embarrassing con.

2) Country: Living in Mendon, running outside the city is my default choice. I’m a big fan of Wheelerville Road; there’s about 8 miles of varying terrain, and it’s cool and shady even in July. For such a somewhat remote location, Wheelerville is well trafficked and safe. On a typical run, I encounter everyone from dog-walkers and cyclists to people fishing the river or exploring the wilderness.

Pros: It’s quieter than the city, cars are scarce and there’s a good mix of hills and straight-aways.

Cons: Deer flies. While the impending bite from one of these guys may keep you moving, they’re still jerks.

3) Off-road: Here, of course, I’m talking about the Pine Hill trails. Fourteen miles on 300 acres. What else is there to say? The trails vary from light to challenging. Trail-running keeps you on your toes. One misplaced step will send you tumbling. But that’s the fun of it.

Pros: The trails are in the city. That’s pretty cool.

Cons: Is it just me or is the Stone Crusher haunted?

I know running is not for everyone (sometimes, it’s barely for me). But the benefits both physically and psychologically are worth it. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how far or fast you run, or if you even run at all. It’s finding time in your day to be active – getting outside, getting your heart pumping and keeping yourself fit and healthy.