When Tropical Storm Irene tore through Vermont last August, some of the towns hardest hit included communities along Route 100. From Wilmington to Waterbury, the damage was devastating – rain and flooding washed out roads and bridges, knocked buildings off foundations and damaged farmland.
The town of Waitsfield, located along Vermont’s scenic Mad River, was not spared. The town’s historic Bridge Street Marketplace area suffered substantial damage. Shops and restaurants were flooded under several feet of water, and a photography studio near the riverbank was ripped from its foundation.
Somehow, the 19th-century covered Village Bridge on Bridge Street survived the storm and reopened to traffic shortly thereafter. But a year later, the sight of Irene’s destruction still lingers, including the bare foundation where the Birke Photography studio once stood. Still, there are clear signs that the town is moving forward. Commercial and residential buildings that were severely damaged have been renovated, and most businesses have reopened.
Twelve months after the storm, Bridge Street in Waitsfield is returning to normal. Or at least the new normal.
“It’s changed, and we just keep moving forward,” said Susan Klein, executive director of the Mad River Valley Chamber of Commerce. “We are grateful that we were spared as much as we were, and that we did not suffer the kind of damage experienced in Waterbury, Wilmington or neighboring Moretown. But people suffered losses here, and we’ll always remember what happened.”
Locals and visitors will have an opportunity to honor Waitsfield’s resiliency and sense of community at the second annual Bridge Street Block Party on Sept. 8. The afternoon event will feature music, food, a photo montage and more, and will help benefit the Mad River Longer Term Recovery fund. In addition, display panels commemorating Irene will be installed on the old Birke Photography foundation.
Bridge Street may not look exactly the same anymore, but Klein says people seem to have an even greater affection for it these days.
“When I look at Bridge Street a year after the storm, I think it has a certain vibrancy that goes deeper than before,” she says. “And I believe that feeling was borne out of the incredible love we have for this area.”