Healing and homage

This weekend’s parade will mark the two-year anniversary of the tropical storm and floods that tore through Newfane, and the resiliancy of a small town and its people

NEWFANE VILLAGE — Dover Road residents still drive by flood-damaged homes each day from Tropical Storm Irene, structures that serve as reminders of that August day two years ago when residents were evacuated by South Newfane and NewBrook volunteer firefighters as the Rock River rose over its banks.

Two residents who say that day forever changed their lives wanted to express their gratitude and celebrate the fact that, in spite of flood damage to their property and home, they survived.

“We were a lot luckier than some people,” photographer and resident Chris Triebert said. Her wife and designer, Carol Ross, concurred.

And so, the couple came up with the idea for the first Rock River parade last year as “a way for the community to come together and made me feel and everybody else feel good,” Ross said.

This year, the Rock River Parade and Festival is marking the second anniversary of Tropical Storm Irene's mark on the community with a festival following the parade, Aug. 25, at noon, in South Newfane.

Organized by the Rock River Revival Project, a community organization dedicated to revitalizing the devastated villages of South Newfane and Williamsville in the wake of the storm and flooding, the festivities will also raise funds to recognize and benefit the two volunteer fire departments of Newfane - South Newfane/Williamsville and NewBrook.

Triebert emphasized that “everyone who wants to” is invited to join in and march at the end of the parade to the green, where the festival follows and will go “at least until 4 p.m.”

“Our theme on the lead banner will say, 'Together We're Stronger,” and that really sums up what we feel this Parade/Festival is about,” Ross explained in the parade's promotional material. “It's a universal message, but very poignant to this community after the flood.”

As Lynn Forrest, a parade organizer and resident, told Selectboard members at their Aug. 1 meeting, this year the event organizers want to celebrate what she called “the continuing health of the community, and to bring together all of the villages to celebrate, and continue to support the firefighters as they continue to protect us.”

On tap: music, food, festivities, face painting, raffles, and contests. “If you ever wanted to climb on a fire truck, this is your chance,” Forrest added to laughter at the meeting.

This year as well, Selectboard members will be in the parade and in the festival representing a variety of functions, Forrest noted.

Selectboard Chair Jon Mack, who will lead the parade as head of the Buzzard's Band playing New Orleans–style jazz, warned, “My function will be playing the saxophone, which, if you've ever heard, it may be that I make a better board chair than a saxophone player.”

Great admiration

Neighbors in the communities of South Newfane and Williamsville along the Rock River that enthusiastically supported the idea last year are just as excited about Sunday's event, where some 150 people, representing businesses, nonprofits, schools, churches, and organizations, will march in the parade.

Altogether, about 300 people are making the parade and festival happen, Ross estimated.

Triebert said that the experience with Irene gave her “great admiration for what the fire department does for no pay.” The parade and festival are a way to express the gratitude of the whole community along the Rock River, by raising funds to support the two volunteer fire departments of South Newfane and NewBrook.

Triebert said the purpose is to, “Celebrate life. We all survived the flood and we are incredibly thankful for the help from fireman who evacuated us in time, for neighbors helping neighbors. There's reason to celebrate on the second anniversary of Irene.”

Neighbors helping neighbors

Triebert recalls getting a knock on the door on that day two years ago, only minutes before the river surrounded their house.

She and Ross “were evacuated within minutes” of the waters inundating their property, “at great personal risk” to the firefighters who did so.

“The river rose and ran on both sides of our house,” and even changed property lines.

“The river was here, now it's over there,” Triebert said, pointing to the river, now about 20 yards farther away from their house.

“Which is probably a good thing,” she quipped.

When she hears a heavy rain even now, Triebert said she still gets a little unnerved, having a greater understanding of how much can change very quickly with an extreme weather event.

“You realize that life is fragile and fleeting. It was a very real, visceral experience for me.”

Triebert is aware that the experience that she and Ross shared was not as devastating as the ordeal suffered by some homeowners farther downstream.

The two were able to repair their basement with the almost-immediate help of family, friends, neighbors, and people who “just showed up.”

Ross, pointing to a 3{1/2}-foot stone wall just in front of the house, said a neighbor she had never met arrived within days with a bulldozer to move the three feet of silt that buried the retaining structure.

Only by neighbor helping neighbor was the community able to get through the first days following the flood when residents were cut off from the outside world.

This was exemplified, she said, by the meals people with electricity cooked for the people whose homes (if they remained) were without power; the meals were brought to and served at the Williamsville hall.

“It was command central,” Triebert recalled.

In those first days when communities all over southern Vermont were beginning to try to recover, she said, people walked from house to house, checking in on one another, as well as meeting up at the Williamsville Hall.

They met along the road and chatted - for the first time, in some cases - and developed bonds that remain, Triebert said.

Now, “Two summers later, we see nature coming back. We see green spurting up along riverbanks again, and it reminds us how far we have come when we work together,” she said. “We are so much stronger.”

Most poignantly, for her, she still feels a “personal need to come together and offer thanks,” Triebert said.

“I've always loved parades since I was kid,” Triebert said. “They are about the people taking back the roads for this one period of time - the road is not just a pass through. People can pour into the streets and celebrate together.”

Last year, the parade traveled from “halfway between the covered bridge and the green iron bridge,” then through the covered bridge to the Williamsville Hall to a community barbecue.

This year, the parade begins at the same point, but those marching will do so in the other direction, past homes still sitting as they were following the flood, to the green of the former Inn of South Newfane, whose open green space has been made available for the fundraiser.

This year, Ross said, the festival will offer a “top rocks” building contest where entrants will compete against one another and the clock, working for three minutes to stack a pile of rocks from the Rock River. The highest cairn wins.

At the firefighters' booth, volunteers will answer how much it costs to fully outfit a firefighter and what it takes to operate a volunteer fire department in Vermont, as well as “other little-known fireman facts.” People can meet the firefighters who risked their own lives to help rescue Rock River residents.

There will be face painting and rock painting for the kids, and a raffle “with great items that you'll really want,” organizers write.

Local food vendors and producers will provide pizza, Thai food, gelato, lemonade, roasted corn, watermelon, and baked goods.

Live music at the festival will be provided by the Buzzard's Band playing New Orleans–style jazz (and leading the parade); Shelving Rock Duo, comprised of T. Breeze Verdant and Stephen Iachetta playing guitar, fiddle, mandolin and banjo; and the Stevens Sperling Blues Project (Pat Stevens, Jason Sperling, Wyman Shonk, Rich Gillis, Dan DeWalt, Ron Kelley, and Pete Biolsi).

In bringing the Selectboard up to date on the plans for the event, Forrest described the parade and festival as a great opportunity for community members and the public to join the businesses, organizations, and nonprofits marching in the parade.

“It's important to come and march. If you want to get your pickup truck, or your antique car, or whatever, that's great. Have it in the parade. The more people in the parade, the more excitement, and the more fun that we'll have,” she said.

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