Community Events

Town separated by I-91 works to reunite

Students work on mural for I-91 overpass

by Alex Nuti-de Biasi, editor, Journal-Opinion

FAIRLEE—The cliff face of Morey Mountain is etched into the village’s identity. Philip Robinson titled his 1957 history of Fairlee “The Town Under the Cliff.” 

Fifteen years later, I-91 between Fairlee and Bradford opened to traffic, severing the village from its iconic natural feature and Lake Morey. 

The final interstate route was not without debate as many residents pleaded with state and federal officials to develop a route over Morey Mountain rather than between Morey Mountain and the village. Ultimately, they were unsuccessful and I-91 split the town in two.

“[It] detached the town’s economic center — Main Street — from one of the town’s greatest recreational resources and an important environmental asset — Lake Morey,” wrote selectboard member Cathy MacGrath in an email. 

In 2019, the town received a state Better Connections grant to make the town more cohesive and improve opportunities for residents and visitors to access its recreational assets. Among other recommendations, a steering committee implementing the grant identified an art mural for the I-91 underpass, which is the sole pedestrian and traffic access between the village and the Lake Morey area.  

“The mural aims to reconnect Fairlee’s east and west — its village center with its recreational resources — its Main Street and its Lake Morey,” MacGrath wrote.

After years of planning, design, and securing regulatory approval, the art mural is nearing reality. After the Vermont Agency of Transportation completes rehabilitation of the interstate bridge at exit 15, local officials hope to begin installing the mural later this summer. 

To that end, dozens of Samuel Morey Elementary School students spent part of their day last week helping to create the mural designed by Matt Heywood of Middlebury. 

“Something really exciting is gonna happen underneath the underpass, but we need your help,” parent and volunteer Brooke Gladstone told a group of wide-eyed and sleepy-eyed 3rd graders and preschoolers on May 25.

“What’s it like under there,” Heywood asked the students about the underpass.

“Gloomy,” one responded. 

Heywood said that’s exactly why he came up with two designs to showcase the trees surrounding Lake Morey and the amazing and colorful changes they go through each season. 

He designed “Snow Sister” and “Green Man,” the two murals proposed for the site. In an effort to generate enthusiasm and community involvement for the project, Heywood asked students to help cut out leaves that will be painted and applied to the mural walls. 

“If we engage the kids, the parents will follow” he said, adding he employed this process with a community sculpture in Middlebury. He said the students get excited by the idea that they can one day walk past the mural and point to a leaf that they helped make. 

Gladstone added that the mural project dovetails with artist-in-residency program at SMES. 

We will have more on the mural project when it nears installation. 

The author is the Managing Editor for the Journal Opinion in Bradford.

Categories: Community Events