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Ossipee Main Street continues work at slower pace

May 24, 2012
OSSIPEE — What started out as a group of citizens looking for a way to freshen up the town's center and attract new business continues as Ossipee Main Street Program members remain eager to hold onto their mission as volunteerism and monetary support has waned.

During a meeting May 15 with the Program Director Jo-Ann Bickford and board member Patricia Jones, the two spoke with excitement about upcoming events, new business in town, and about the group's slow and steady pace towards its goals. And they spoke with concern about what the group needs most, volunteer help.

Volunteers spent months back in 2005 putting together a plan, application, and raising the funding necessary to vie for selection by the New Hampshire Main Street Program. In 2006, Ossipee was selected as a Main Street Community. This afforded the new group access to training programs and technical services as they worked to implement their goals for the Center Ossipee target area. State funding of the Main Street Program disappeared and that umbrella organization no longer exists. Representatives from other Main Street communities have worked to keep an informal group going so organizers can continue to get support they need from each other. Other Main Street towns include Littleton, Goffstown, Berlin, Meredith, and Laconia, to name a few.

The "official" Ossipee Main Street area includes the area along Main Street from the elementary school parking lot along Moultonville Road to the St. Joseph's Church, out Dore Street to the police station, and down Folsom Road a bit. But, said Jones, the group has tried to reach out beyond the official area to include other businesses and work more towards fostering an overall sense of community throughout the town. This, she said, can be best evidenced by the Welcome to Ossipee signs that are now positioned at every entrance to the town.

The program operates on a current budget of $24,000 with $9,500 of that coming this year from voters at town meeting. The budget is based on what the volunteers can manageably raise through fundraising events and donations throughout the year. The more money they raise, said Jones, the more they can do. The operating budget includes Bickford's part-time salary.

There have been notable projects completed since 2006. In 2008, a once eyesore plot of concrete was transformed into the grassy Main Street Park with trees, benches, and picnic tables, as a place for citizens to gather and where the group hopes more events will be held. The concrete was formerly a haven for skateboarders. Recognizing the need for a place for them to continue to skateboard once their place was covered with grass, Main Street volunteers worked with the selectmen and the town's recreation director to purchase equipment and designate a new skateboard area at the town hall.

Next to the park is the Main Street building. The once dilapidated building received a complete remodel and now houses the Main Street office and is used for board meetings of other community non-profits as well as a meeting space for the local Girl Scout troop. Also in 2008, the Program was selected from a dozen applicants to receive PLAN NH assistance funded by the NH Charitable Foundation. This assistance came in the form of a design charrette, a fast-paced weekend-long gathering of volunteers and planning experts who brainstormed ideas and came up with a plan and a rough budget for what the Program could do and what the Village could look like in 2010, 2013, and 2018. Some of the ideas in the plan have been implemented including the renovation of the building and soon sidewalks will be installed in the area of the school through a Safe Routes to School grant.

If money and opposition were no object and all of the suggestions of the charrette plan could be implemented, the Village would also see the town's highway department moving out of the center of town, a new police department and water/sewer building located on the same property as the town hall, a renovated grain elevator, walking trails on the railroad tracks and through the Village, a community center would be constructed, and the facades of all buildings would be in tip-top condition.

The charrette plan also involved creating additional parking in the village, and planting dozens more trees to tone down the current appearance of the sea of concrete.

The Program did have, at one time, some grant funds available for façade improvement but, said Jones, no one officially applied and now those funds have been rerouted to other Program needs.

As for now, Jones and Bickford agreed that the main focus of the program is to continue to make improvements to the Main Street Park and to their office building grounds but the suggestions in the charrette plan are too far-reaching to be considered at this time. The other focus is to work towards ensuring the Ossipee Farmers Market is a success. Held in years' past on Tuesdays in the village, the Market will now be held on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Tramway Marketplace on Route 16 in West Ossipee July through September. The hope is that the increased exposure will draw more customers, making selling their wares at the Market profitable for vendors. Anyone interested in selling items at the Market can get the guidelines and an application at the Program's Web site, www.ossipeemainstreet.org or by calling the office at 539-7200. The cost of renting space is $5 per Saturday. The event, said Jones, is not a money-maker for the Program, but works to promote local farmers and crafters, an important part of the Program's mission.

Last month, the Program hosted its annual economic fair featuring small businesses and non-profit organizations. The event, said Jones, was very well-attended and by all accounts, a success.

The next event will be the group's annual Rubber Ducky Race. Contestants pay $5 per duck and receive a certificate with their duck's number on it. On race day, July 15, the ducks are dumped into the Bearcamp River in West Ossipee and they float to the finish line, behind Yankee Smokehouse Restaurant. The owners of the ducks who finish first receive cash prizes.

On Sept. 1, the group will host the annual Beech River Run 5k road race. Planning is still in the works. As more details become available, they will be posted on the Program Web site. That same day, there will be a penny sale at Ossipee Town Hall. Proceeds from both events will benefit Ossipee Main Street Program.

Planning is also in the works for a community cookout to be held Sept. 8 in the Main Street Park.

Citizens interested in the Main Street program and who would like to volunteer do not have to make a long-term commitment. Any help is welcome, said Bickford, whether it be making the long-term commitment of serving on the board of directors or to just give a couple of hours to volunteer to help with an event. The Program bylaws allow for seven to 15 board members. Currently there are six. Or maybe a particular part of the overall Main Street revitalization is of interest and a volunteer would like to work on that. One example, said Jones is the need for someone to take on the project of raising funds and registering the grain elevator as a historical resource.

"What's next? We are working in the same path we have been working in. There is a lot more to do. We are always receptive to new ideas," said Jones.

Martin Lord & Osman
Salmon Press
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