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Nice summer weather brings more visitors to state parks

JAMAICA—Vermont State Parks, a division of the state Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation, paid the archaeology team from the University of Vermont Consulting Archaeology Program $57,779 to conduct a full scale dig on a small plot of land in the parking lot of Jamaica State Park, according to Frank Spaulding, parks project coordinator for Vermont State Parks.

The dig began after a mandated historic site environmental investigation revealed ancient artifacts buried in the very same site the park was planning to use for new septic tanks.

And the money for the project became available when the state gave the parks $5.6 million in 2009, more than quadrupling the usual annual budget.

“We used to be lucky to get $900,000,” Spaulding said. “The idea was a state-level stimulus plan to improve the construction economy,” he said, adding that the UVM archaeology contract, based on UVM’s estimate of what the full scope of work would cost, was “the most we’ve ever spent. We’ve never even come close to this kind of contract.”

The UVM team is about to wrap up its very successful 2 1/2-week dig in Jamaica, uncovering some 3,000 artifacts and fragments from aboriginals that date possibly from as far back as 9,500 BCE (Before Common Era).

Spaulding also said that the whole archaeological experience would add to the recreational value of the park and provide visitors with an enhanced cultural resource.

Judging from the enthusiastic crowds at the dig site, Spaulding looks prescient.

The public notices about the dig were widespread, and visitors were encouraged to visit the site.

John Gysling, a civil engineer from Newark, Del., came with his family and another family of friends. They are return visitors to Jamaica State Park.

“There’s a lot to do here,” he said, “And I like the cleanliness and the swimming.  It’s a safe place and it feels good.”

His son Nathaniel and his son’s friend Christian were intrigued by the newly disinterred artifacts, which were displayed on a table under a visitors’ tent.

The two boys were among about a dozen or so visitors who were drawn by the dig. Many asked questions and asked if they could hold some of the artifacts, which they were allowed to do.

Ethan Phelps, a state parks regional manager for southeastern Vermont, said the enormous revenue increase for fiscal year 2010, plus another $2.5 million for 2011, has allowed the parks to replace bathrooms in Quechee, Brighton and Little River State Parks for $325,000 apiece and to stabilize and restore a 19th century hotel building at Kill Kerr State Park in St. Albans for $750,000 for use as a group facility, for new bathrooms and for staff quarters.

“These projects,” Phelps said, “have long-term value, probably a 50- to 100-year life cycle. We still have a $40- to $50-million backlog.”

Phelps said attendance at the parks was up by about 12 percent over 2009, when the parks drew an estimated 729,312 visitors, 367, 245 of them were day use visitors and 362,067 were campers. Of the day-use patrons, 81 percent were Vermont residents, whereas for the camping crowd, 45 percent were Vermont residents.

The highest year attendance was in 1969 when 1,172,692 visitors were recorded and the lowest attendance was in 1943, when a mere 12,132 patrons visited.

Phelps said the 12 percent increase was mainly among the day visitors, a circumstance he attributes, in part, to some promotional efforts but mainly to tight economic times.

“People still experience the parks as affordable,” he said.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #64 (Wednesday, August 25, 2010).

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