Strike up a conversation with the locals at one of the general stores in West Burke and you’re bound to hear a little history of the village in its heyday. Depending on their age, it might be a firsthand account or one passed on to them from parents and grandparents who remember West Burke Village as a bustling railroad stop where the historic Mill Pond and adjacent bandstand were the town center.

Going back several decades, West Burke Village was once a dense, thriving community with a mix of residential and commercial buildings including Button’s Café, the Trull Hotel, grist mills, a sawmill, feed stores, and a theater. Street dances were a popular event that brought folks together on summer nights. Back then, Routes 5 and 5A were also the main roads leading north to Crystal Lake, the cliffs of Pisgah, and Willoughby Lake.

Over time, as train travel became less popular and the addition of the interstate became a faster option to get to the lakes, businesses in the village slowly transformed into residential housing. Fires over the course of several decades also led to the loss of historic structures. Today, remnants of history remain through streetscapes, architecture, and via families who have called this little part of Vermont home for generations. Buildings may have come and gone, but one thing that holds steady in the village is the sense of community pride and spirit. Neighbors helping neighbors has always been a way of life here.

It is with this history and community pride in mind that the West Burke Revitalization Project began. The project is spearheaded by One Burke which received grant funding last year to create an economic development plan for the village and host visioning sessions with community members. Grant funding was received from multiple sources including: the Vermont Department of Housing & Community Development, Kingdom Trail Association, Vermont Community Foundation, the New England Grassroots Environment Fund, and USDA Rural Development (grant secured through Northern Community Investment Corporation). One Burke also receives much support from the Town of Burke and the Burke Area Chamber of Commerce.

Fairweather Consulting and gBA Architecture & Planning, hired by One Burke to assist with the project, have been researching potential economic opportunities for the village. On Saturday, September 19th, a community gathering took place in the West Burke park to gather feedback from residents about what kind of development they would like to see in West Burke Village. The project is all about what the community wants and strengthening the vitality of the village in a way that benefits residents.

The event, co-hosted by the Burke Area Chamber of Commerce, had an attendance of about 130 people (all wearing masks, of course) who were excited to have a chance to talk with members of the Revitalization Steering Committee about the project. Stations included historical photos of West Burke alongside current streetscapes as well as images of potential building uses that might fit in with the village. Potential uses include a café, outfitter shop, manufacturing space, mixed use office or arts space, equestrian trail space, and housing. Attendees left many positive and enthusiastic comments about the potential that exists in West Burke. Among the many ideas from community members about possible additions to the village were: a hunting/fishing shop, a place to rent or purchase kayaks/canoes, a café, an art studio that offered classes, a coworking space, butcher shop, shared kitchen space for small scale producers, a barber shop, salon, an indoor pool, the creation of multi-use trails, and the addition of affordable housing for families. One comment mentioned often was the need for better internet as well as more events in the park and at the West Burke Library.

Des Hertz, Chair of the One Burke Village Revitalization Task Force, was pleased with the event attendance. Said Hertz, “the conversations and feedback gathered during this event will help our task force with the visioning work for West Burke Village. It was so nice to host another event in the park in West Burke made possible through collaboration with the Burke Chamber and other local businesses. We really want to hear from as many voices in West Burke about what they want to see happen in their village. Any ideas, any opinions are welcome. The posters for feedback, as well as surveys, will be available for gathering more ideas at the community building on election day."

Anyone who would like to learn more or provide feedback on the project can visit the One Burke Facebook page. The photo album of the event features images of each info station. Comments and ideas are welcome and encouraged. Next steps for the steering committee include reviewing the feedback and determining how best to encourage investment in the village and attract potential new businesses.

In addition to the Revitalization efforts, One Burke has also been addressing infrastructure needs in East and West Burke which play a critical role in the economic health of the area. Andrea Day of Dufresne Group was at the event with updates about the Water and Wastewater studies for both villages. Water testing and surveys sent out to property owners have been essential in determining the needs of each village and developing ways to address those needs. More details about the findings are forthcoming.

Also under the One Burke umbrella, the Trails & Transportation task force has been collaborating with Kingdom Trails and landowners to create more singletrack trails. The task force has also been working with the Town of Burke to ensure the safety of pedestrians in the villages.

One Burke is an all volunteer organization formed in 2017 as a result of community visits organized by the Vermont Council on Rural Development. The visits provided idea gathering sessions so that residents of Burke could voice their thoughts on a vision for the community. According to the organization’s mission statement: One Burke promotes a collaborative community and enhances our vibrant, safe, and healthy town. Two task forces are currently active under the One Burke umbrella and both welcome involvement from the community. The Village Revitalization and Trails & Transportation Task Forces each meet regularly via Zoom. More information can be found at facebook.com/OneBurkeVT and burkevermont.com/listing/One-Burke. Anyone interested in getting involved with the One Burke task forces and/or the Revitalization project can email burkechamber@burkevermont.com.