Editor's Note: the author of this article is a member of the Selectboard and was directly involved in topics covered.
When the pandemic closed Thetford Town Hall on March 13th, 2020, it was only a few months away from the summer season at Treasure Island. In the beginning, no one knew if the pandemic would last weeks, months, or years (though some had guesses). No one knew if Treasure Island could open, and if so, under what guidelines – the state didn’t know yet either. Needless to say, Nathan Maxwell (then Recreation Director) and Guy Scaife (then Town Manager) eventually found a path forward and there was a limited and reduced season, but a season nonetheless.
It was a chance to look at the big picture. Specifically, Guy asked critical questions: what service(s) does or should Treasure Island provide, and what are its costs, liabilities, and limitations? What reasonable options exist?
There was a rumor that the Town couldn’t sell Treasure Island without repaying the federal grant money that assisted with its initial purchase. At the time, this rumor was the only information available. No one was advocating for selling Treasure Island, however the rumor itself hinted at information about Treasure Island that could prove pivotal in understanding the facility’s limitations. The land records at Town Hall were examined and the state was followed up with, but there was no evidence that substantiated the rumor or provided any new insights.
It was at this time, when the discovery process hit a dead end, that the Town attorney, who had served the Town for at least a decade and had a depth of knowledge about Town operations, was engaged to assist. The attorney did the needed research and presented the Town in October 2020 with a 7-page memo entitled, “Treasure Island Restrictions.”
As it turns out, the restrictions on Treasure Island did not rest in the land records or with the state, as one might expect (there are no deed restrictions, for example). Treasure Island is instead protected by the U.S. Department of the Interior National Park Service through the 1965 U.S. Land and Water Conservation Fund Act (LWCFA). In short, the Town cannot sell Treasure Island except to another municipality or the state. The rumor that we would have to repay the grant, as a side note, was incorrect.
There are other restrictions, too. Without getting into the weeds, they include things like: “The property shall be maintained so as to appear attractive and inviting to the public…” and, “A posted LWCF acknowledgement sign shall remain displayed at the project site…”
Upon receiving this memo, Guy became concerned that the Town was potentially noncompliant with some of the numerous restrictions dictated by LWCFA. And had been potentially noncompliant for at least some time. And no one in Town government had even realized it.
Unfortunately, this is when Guy Scaife left the employ of the Town of Thetford.
Around this time, the Selectboard formed the Treasure Island Exploratory Committee because it was felt that the big questions Guy had started asking – what services does or can the facility provide within the confines of its liabilities and restrictions and within the confines of what can reasonably be raised from taxpayers – were too much and too specialized for the Selectboard or the Town Manager to dissect without more community involvement.
The Committee was charged with developing a long-range plan that balanced three primary needs: recreation, conservation, and financial sustainability. The Committee, with memo in hand, immediately got to work, pulling on past work done by the Friends of Treasure Island, as well as new research into possible grants, planning contractors, and various programs, facility improvements, and management plans. They also reached out to former staff, networked with other organizations on Lake Fairlee, and have helped arrange a sizable donation to ensure that Treasure Island will be open for the 2021 summer season despite unexpected changing to staffing within the Recreation Department.
In all, it was a transformative year for Treasure Island, yet the Committee's work is just beginning. The facility is poised, with community support, for revitalization. And importantly, it will be a rivitalization that considers everyone's needs: swimmers, taxpayers, loons, et al.