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Joyce Endee

Littleton's I-93 Exit 44 closing until mid-May

DRED commissioner says state wants to save funds for next summer season

Khela McGann/The Littleton Courier Alan Smith, Career and Technical Center director and assistant superintendent, listens to the lungs and heart beat of a mannequin in the health sciences lab while student Brianna Hartford supervises during the school’s open house night last Thursday. (click for larger version)
October 27, 2011
LITTLETON — By this coming Monday, Interstate 93 Exit 44's Welcome Center — as well as those in Lebanon, Colebrook and Shelburne — will close until next spring so that the remaining funds allocated for those centers can be used to open them again May 15 through Oct. 31.

The Oct. 13 letter from Department of Resources and Economic Development (DRED) George Bald says that the centers could reopen before mid-May if funding can be obtained through private-public partnerships.

Earlier this year, the Littleton, Colebrook and Shelburne welcome centers had been slated for closure on June 2, but an extra $200,000 was found at the last minute. Then at the beginning of July, the centers' hours were reduced — Littleton went from 84 hours of operation per week to 28 hours per week, or seven hours, four days a week.

As one of the gateways to the North Country from Vermont and Canada, the center, which overlooks Moore Reservoir, is a resource for the 85,000 to 88,000 yearly visitors that stop by on their way to or through the Littleton area.

Bald added in his letter that if funding could be found through public-private partnerships, the centers could re-open sooner.

"We have been working diligently on public-private partnerships for more than 6 months, and will continue to do so in hope that we can open these centers sooner than scheduled," said Bald.

In July, the state Department of Transportation handed control of the welcome centers over to the newly created Bureau of Visitor Services, which is under Travel and Tourism Development, a division of DRED.

This past summer the bureau was just getting on its feet and any potential public-private partnership was in its infancy.

Chad Stearns, executive director of the Littleton Area Chamber of Commerce, said the welcome center employees have always been helpful in recommending local businesses to visitors. As one of the first stops for Canadians who are making more trips to New Hampshire due to the exchange rate, its unfortunate that it won't be another resource during the winter months. Stearns added that the Chamber also stocks pamphlets and fliers at the center, and the high volume of material that goes through the center is proof that it's being used.

"The welcome center is definitely an asset to the area," said Stearns.

After this coming Monday, visitors will have to stop by the Chamber's office at the Littleton Opera House for additional information. Its information booth on Main Street closed after Columbus Day weekend and won't reopen until Memorial Day weekend.

With the reduced hours, the full-time employee was laid off and the four part-time employees each covered one seven-hour shift. When the center was operating seven days a week it had a full-time and four part-time employees and cost about $107,000 per year.

Martin Lord Osman
Salmon Press
Garnett HIll
Varney Smith
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