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A New Welcome Center For The Bennington Bypass

Susan Keese- VPR
A new welcome center opens in time for the Vermont's Fall foliage tourism.

The long-anticipated Vermont Welcome Center in Bennington opened Friday, in time for the state’s peak weekend for fall foliage tourism.

The visitors center sits at the interchange where the Bennington Bypass -- Route 279 -- meets Vermont Routes 7 and 9.

The facility opened at seven in the morning with little fanfare.  A ribbon cutting ceremony is planned for November. But with the state’s busy fall tourist season already in full swing, officials decided not to wait.

Within a few hours of the opening a tour bus full of visitors from Kentucky was parked outside the building.

Nancy McChesney, the bus driver, was unaware that the welcome center had just opened.

“I had no idea,” she said. “We’re traveling through New England and we just happened to see the sign, and we stopped.”

Bob Dobbs, of Louisville, was impressed by the building’s panoramic view of Mount Anthony and the Bennington Battle Monument. He says his ancestor came through New England to fight in the Revolutionary War.

“That monument represents my great-great-grandfather,” he said. “So I’m glad to stop here.”

That’s exactly what JoAnn Erenhouse hopes to hear.

Erenhouse directs the Bennington Area Chamber of Commerce, which will operate the center. She says the state asked the chamber for input on the project’s design.

“What I wanted especially was to create a sense of place,” Erenhouse says. “And the architects interpreted that very nicely, by showcasing and framing the Bennington Monument when you arrive.”

The center has floors of Vermont slate, touches of marble and plenty of kiosks and exhibit cases that will highlight Vermont attractions, products and crafts.

The facility was originally slated to open for the Fourth of July holiday, but it’s seen repeated delays, including a small fire from a propane tank last spring.

Vermont Buildings Commissioner Michael Obuchoswki attributes much of the delay to the complex nature of the project.

“One of the contributing factors in the delay was that it was a complicated site to work in that a lot of site work had to be done,” Obuchowsi explains..

Obuchowski estimates the project’s cost at about eight-point-two million dollars, including the site work and parking areas.

Members of the Bennington business community have expressed frustration that the center wasn’t open sooner.

But Erenhouse says the delays won’t matter in the long run.

“In a couple of years,” she says, “Nobody’s going to remember if we open July first or December first. They built it the right way and that’s what’s important.”

The welcome center is expected to bring in visitors from New York and points south as well as travelers headed north.

People in the local community also hope the center will remind travelers on the new Bennington Bypass not to bypass Bennington.

Susan Keese was VPR's southern Vermont reporter, based at the VPR studio in Manchester at Burr & Burton Academy. After many years as a print journalist and magazine writer, Susan started producing stories for VPR in 2002. From 2007-2009, she worked as a producer, helping to launch the noontime show Vermont Edition. Susan has won numerous journalism awards, including two regional Edward R. Murrow Awards for her reporting on VPR. She wrote a column for the Sunday Rutland Herald and Barre-Montpelier Times Argus. Her work has appeared in Vermont Life, the Boston Globe Magazine, The New York Times and other publications, as well as on NPR.
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