GUILFORD—The sunny lawn just up the hill from the field formerly known as Sweet Pond was the site of a celebration this past Saturday.
“We’ll be looking to party,” State Rep. Mike Hebert, R-Vernon, said on May 27, when he announced to the Guilford Selectboard the state would award the town $405,000 to restore the Sweet Pond dam, thus allowing the now-empty pond to fill back up.
Guilford got its party.
Susan James, part of the Sweet Pond Steering Committee, said Glen and Mary Filgate, who live in the house near the parking area and trailhead to the pond, agreed to have the event in their yard.
“We thought it would be an imposition,” James said, but the Filgate family not only offered their land, but helped committee members set up for the party earlier that morning.
The Sweet Pond Steering Committee, founded in 2011, “when they drained the pond,” James said, raised $7,000 toward convincing the state to repair the dam and restore the pond.
James serves on the committee, along with Richard Austin, Katie Buckley, Representative Hebert, Linda Hecker, Verandah Porche, and Richard Wizansky.
The pond currently resembles a field in a hollow, filled with tall grasses and wildflowers. Once the dam is restored, James said the pond will fill up with water from a stream on the north end of the area, two other streams coming in near Sweet Pond Road, and “a whole bunch of springs."
Although the state opening the dam caused heartbreak among many locals, by draining the pond and leaving what’s left of the dam intact, the state may also have saved some of their homes.
“During [Tropical Storm] Irene, the pond filled up within 24 hours. If they had taken the dam out completely, it would have been pretty disastrous for the houses downstream,” James said.
Valerie and Bob Heerema, who said they live “about a quarter-mile from the pond,” attended Saturday’s celebration. As they dined on hot dogs, salads, and vegetable chips, they told The Commons how much the pond is a part of their routine.
“I walk by the pond every day, usually,” Bob said.
“Your reward for the walk was this beautiful pond,” Valerie added.
Bob said that in one of his walks shortly after the pond was drained, he came upon pieces of paper pinned to trees in the area.
“Schoolchildren wrote verse about missing the pond,” he said.
The poems were written by Guilford School second-graders under the tutelage of Porche.
Porche, who lives near Sweet Pond, works as an artist-in-residence at the school. She said a lesson on “celebrations of prepositions” served as the structure for the students to lament the passing of their pond.
She shared a few of the poems with The Commons.
In them, the children wrote things like, “Without Sweet Pond it will be just a damp hole,” and “Across from the plunking rocks in Sweet Pond, the ripples in the water look beautiful. / Without the nice kerplunk of Sweet Pond of my heart, my heart would be sad.”
Just after 12:30 p.m. on Saturday, Wizansky, who acted as Master of Ceremonies for the party, gathered everyone’s attention.
“Mike Hebert had a medical emergency this morning and can’t be here,” Wizansky said. “It’s too bad, because we wanted to thank him. This party is a ‘thank you’ to the government officials, the [Steering] Committee, and the community.”
Wizansky added that “one of the reasons the Legislature gave the money to the project was because they realized the community was behind this.”
The money the committee raised will be used to purchase benches and maintain the trails once the pond is re-opened, and for the party, Wizansky said.
“As you know, the state is not in great financial shape,” he said, “but we still got the money.”
“Guilford is a town that can really come together,” Porche said, adding this project provided opportunity for members of different communities to come together, too, such as those from the neighboring town of Vernon, Hebert’s home.
“It was really lovely to see Mike [Hebert’s] dedication to this and the incredible time he took coming to meetings in Guilford, in addition to those at the statehouse,” Porche said.
Wizansky said the proposed timeline for the project begins next summer with a site prep, then the project will be put out to bid. Rider added in 2017, construction on the dam’s replacement begins, including restoring the facade.
State Sen. Rebecca Balint, D-Windham, talked about her experience serving in the Senate Committee on Institutions, where Hebert advocated for Sweet Pond. She characterized the committee as one mostly focusing on numbers, where belt-tightening is the norm.
“I’m probably the most liberal person on that committee,” she said.
Balint told the story of Hebert’s impassioned pleas on the pond’s behalf, telling stories about “the children.”
She said Sen. Dick Mazza, D-Chittenden-Grand Isle, kept asking, “What about the money?”
“Mike kept coming back around to the children,” Balint said, and “by the end, we all got out the tissues.”
Hebert’s heart-felt stories worked, and the state awarded the project $405,000.
Senate Committee on Institutions Chair Peg Flory, R-Rutland, attended the party. She attributed some of Sweet Pond’s victory to Balint. “When you have Becca on your committee, you do what she wants,” she said with a laugh.
Guilford Selectboard Chair Anne Rider spoke about the effect of the community’s passion on the state making its decision.
Rider said that the town received a letter from the state in March 2010, telling them their dam was being dismantled, with no opportunity for public comment.
“The town just sprang into action,” Rider said.
She recalled Secretary of Agency of Natural Resources Deb Markowitz asking her, “Why am I getting so many phone calls about this?"
“This pond means so much to people,” Rider said. “There’s a long history of activism,” in Guilford, and when word came down that the pond was in jeopardy, “we sprang into action."
“We’re the little mouse that roared,” she said.
“Nothing happens without advocacy,” State Rep Mollie Burke, P-Brattleboro, said to the guests.
After the politicians finished their speeches, Wizansky directed attendees to the grill.
“Have a hot dog,” he said. “They’re Hebrew National!”
As attendees followed the chow-line from the grill to the tables holding hot dog accoutrements, salads, and chips, the musical portion of the day’s events commenced with a performance by The Pond Sisters.
Patty Carpenter sang lead vocals and played the piano, Verandah Porche took a few solos, Susan Bonthron strummed on a big stand-up bass, and Joan Peters accompanied on accordion.
In addition to a Bluegrass number, the band sang a few water-related songs. One, “Dam Gone,” was written for Sweet Pond. In introducing the song, Carpenter said, “it was heartbreaking to drive by and see the dam cracked.”
Carpenter introduced “Sweet Little Pond Of Mine,” by saying she rewrote it to the tune of “This Little Light Of Mine.”
“Kayaks in the autumn/we’re gonna let ’em shine,” The Pond Sisters sang.
“We’re hoping for some more verses once the pond opens,” Carpenter said.
In addition to the pond providing recreation and musical inspiration, the body of water also produced some notable artistic beginnings in the form of a Shakespeare play.
In 1976, the Monteverdi Players, comprised of members of Total Loss Farm, performed The Tempest in Sweet Pond on an island built by sculptor Mark Fenwick.
“I saw that play,” Burke said. “It was the first time I saw my husband performing.”
Burke said her husband, Peter Gould, “got his start in theater,” with the Monteverdi Players. Since then, Gould — half of the famous comic team of Gould & Stearns — went on to direct a variety of plays, including The Tempest, which he put on this year at the New England Youth Theater.
John Scagliotti got his start with the play, too. He worked with Alan Dater to film the documentary, The Stuff of Dreams, which told the tale of the Monteverdi Players’s production.
“It was my first film,” Scagliotti told The Commons. “Through The Tempest, I got into making film, then I went on to NYU Film School.”
Scagliotti went on to create In The Life for PBS, the first gay and lesbian series in the nation, and the documentary film Before Stonewall, which won two Emmy Awards, and its follow-up, After Stonewall.
“The pond was very important,” Scagliotti said, adding, “it does something to the whole area. Bodies of water create atmosphere. Hot tubs just don’t do it.”