Dorset Quarry to reopen on trial basis

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DORSET — The popular, privately owned Dorset Quarry swimming hole on Route 30 will reopen to the public on a trial basis Friday, with guidelines in place to promote social distancing.

Visiting group sizes will be limited to 25 people or fewer, and groups must stay at least 6 feet apart from one another, according to Ryan Downey, a land surveyor who is in the process of purchasing the parking area and green space adjacent to the quarry. Face masks will be recommended.

Downey has overseen an array of construction at the parking area parcel — now named the Dorset Marble Park — including clearing underbrush, building a retaining wall, sandblasting marble blocks and planting large trees along Route 30. More recently, he has marked 12-foot-diameter circles, each spaced 6 feet apart, on the grassy area of the quarry-adjacent parcel, where visitors will be able to picnic.

Downey will charge visitors $10 per vehicle to park at his lot, though it will be free for Dorset residents, veterans, front-line workers and teachers. Parking is not permitted along Route 30 within the immediate vicinity of the quarry.

Richard McDonough, who along with his wife, Kirsten, has owned and tended to the quarry for more than two decades, said on Tuesday that he intends to sell the parking lot parcel to Downey and donate the quarry parcel to the Vermont River Conservancy, a nonprofit land trust. The plan is for the deals, which were delayed because of the coronavirus outbreak, to close at the end of the month, he said.

Contacted Tuesday, Steven Libby, the conservancy's executive director, said he could not provide an exact closing date but confirmed that the group is "fully on board" with becoming the quarry's long-term owner. The nonprofit has received a grant from the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board to fund some of the transaction costs, he said. The grant requires that a public-access easement be placed on the property in perpetuity.

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"We agree totally that having the quarry available to the public in these times when people really need outdoor recreation is really important," Libby said. The challenge, he added, "is how you do that with potentially large amounts of people."

The quarry typically attracts about 15,000 visitors every year, according to Downey. That interest does not seem to have abated amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Visitors continue to enter the quarry "on a pretty steady basis," Downey said, despite caution tape along Route 30 and posted signs that state the quarry is closed until further notice because of the outbreak. Downey said he ends up visiting the site about five times every day to kick people out after receiving calls or texts from neighbors and passersby.

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Sgt. Jesse Bravata, a county sheriff's deputy who patrols Dorset, said he also receives calls about trespassing at the site.

During an hour-long visit at the site on Tuesday afternoon, three separate groups attempt to enter the quarry parcel. They turned away after Downey, from afar, advised them that it was closed.

"I have a megaphone I usually do it with," he said.

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Downey expects unauthorized visits to increase as the weather warms, part of the impetus for developing a plan to reopen the site safely. He sought guidance from Gov. Phil Scott's administration through state Rep. Linda Joy Sullivan, whose district includes Dorset, about how to do just that.

"Since the Dorset Quarry is such a popular summertime spot, historically attracting so many out of state tourists paired with our resident Vermonters from across the state, following guidelines for keeping all safe was the top priority," Sullivan wrote in an email on Tuesday. "The administration identified the guidelines and they should be posted at the Quarry. This will allow tourism and an opportunity for responsible fun to happen over the summer as we establish our new normal lifestyle."

According to state guidance that took effect on Monday, outdoor recreation opportunities are open to Vermont residents, visitors from New England and New York counties that have similar COVID-19 caseloads and visitors from other areas who have observed the state's quarantine requirements.

Employees stationed at the quarry and adjacent park will help to promote social distancing, said Downey, who intends to assess whether the site can remain open after about a week of the trial period. "We want to do what's responsible," he said.

McDonough, the quarry's current owner and longtime steward, emphasized the importance of visitors following guidelines. "Adherence to social distancing is going to be critical," he said.

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