View From Glen Hill: A small town with forward-thinking ideas

Pete Coolidge is a cornerstone of our summer town of Andover, Maine (pop. 800). Just last week, he performed in the concert series on the town green that is now a fixture of Andover’s summertime scene. These concerts feature performers from all over northern New England, many of them Pete’s friends. Pete himself is an exceptional guitarist, vocalist and composer in the folk music genre with ballads extolling everything from historic barn preservation to long-term marriages through all their vicissitudes to “the only one I ever loved.”  

His closing number, Small Town, describes the way in which, for all of their differences, people in small towns come together to help one another. Pete himself is a perfect example of that. Owner of the town hardware store, he also serves on the town school board where he oversees building and vehicle maintenance. His skills in both the volunteer accomplishment of needed work and the organization of larger projects (from keeping the four-bus fleet operational to heating-system overhaul and replacement of a section of the school’s main roof) are critically needed and remarkably well performed.  He also brought to the elementary school an innovative “play it forward” program that teaches children guitar and provides them with guitars to learn on.

Pete is a great example of the kind of skilled and thoughtful folks who populate this town, and right now town development is in the forefront of many of their minds, just as it is in Wilton. Andover has much to recommend it, especially now that the continuation of its elementary school has been definitively resolved by town withdrawal of its elementary school from the regional school district that was bent on closing it down.  (Elementary school closing is the kiss of death for towns like Andover in remote areas of Maine.)  

But how do you best market yourself when you’re a 90-minute drive from the closest large city (Portland) and over four hours from a major metropolis (Boston)? For one thing, you underscore how beautiful your town is: nestled in a bowl of mountains, it is blessed with verdant forests, lakes and streams traversed by many well-maintained multi-purpose trails used by hikers, bikers, horseback riders, ATVers, and snowmobilers. The large Sunday River ski resort is a half-hour south, and the lower end of the huge Rangeley Lake chain is an equal distance north. Andover also boasts several manufacturing and distribution facilities, including an excellent large wood-drying kiln and a well-known ski distributorship. And, of course, farmers and those who work in the woods and with wood products are town mainstays. So Andover has some good industry and commerce, but it could definitely use more.      

Andover also has two good restaurants, two general stores, one gas station, and a couple of guest lodges. They serve tourists as well as town residents and also the many Appalachian Trail hikers who need to walk only a short distance off the trail to “provision up” and relax a little here. Andover’s public services are also good and include, in addition to the elementary school, a very good public library and volunteer fire department and ambulance service, and the police presence of a game warden who lives in town.

To address the next steps in town development, Andover has appointed a Comprehensive Plan Committee with a half-dozen very effective town residents as members and the three selectmen also actively engaged. The committee recently sent out to all full- and part-time residents a detailed questionnaire. Its eight pages ask 32 questions, many of which can be answered yes or no or by checking a box; others, though, invite discursive answers  — questions like these: Why did you choose to live here? What types of business development would you like to see encouraged or discouraged? What long-range issues do you think are critical for Andover to address?

My own suggestions as I completed the form included getting the great word out about Andover in regional publications like Yankee Magazine and maybe even in Internet business magazines with a focus on encouraging businesses that have no need for a specific location, like many Internet-based businesses, to consider Andover with all it has to offer in terms of quality of life and as a great place to raise kids. But that’s just one idea, and I’m sure that by reaching out to all of us, the town will get many more.  

As with Wilton’s own business development planning, my money is on the process bearing much good fruit!