Brandon’s new Gateways and Adventure brochures.
By Lee J. Kahrs
BRANDON—An ambitious project designed to highlight what’s best about Brandon is now complete. The Brandon Gateways to Adventure guides were released recently, and organizers are hoping to draw both tourists and locals alike to myriad activities and features in and around Brandon.
Sponsored by the Brandon Area Chamber of Commerce, the trifold guides break down Brandon’s motto, “Unhurried, Unspoiled, Unforgettable,” into three sections.
Under “Unhurried,” the Gateway guides offer concerts and galleries in Brandon, including the Brandon Artists Guild, the Compass Center, Brandon Town Hall, and Brandon Music, as well as Book & Leaf bookstore. There is also the Homespun Tour, which highlights the fiber arts such as local weavers and goods at Brandon Farmer’s Market, Maple View Alpaca Farm, Vermont Fiber Mill, Swan & Stone Millinery, the Judith Reilly Fabric Art Gallery, Creative Fiber Designs, and the Brandon Artists Guild.
“Unspoiled” includes birding, mountain biking and street cycling, hiking and walking, and cross-country and backcountry skiing. The guides for each activity give detailed directions on where to go, outlining several trip options with degrees of difficulty and length, plus easy-to-follow maps.
“Unforgettable” includes guides to local architecture and history in Brandon and Forestdale History, also with trip ideas, maps and descriptions.
Brainstorming at the Barnraising
Brandon Area Chamber Executive Director Bernie Carr and Chamber member Gary Meffe met with The Reporter last week to discuss Gateways, born 16 months ago at an event designed to encourage projects just like it.
The Brandon Barnraising was held in February 2015 to encourage creative economic development and promotional projects in Brandon. Meffe said he, Carr, and past Chamber President Liz Gregorek sat down at a table during the first Barnraising and the Gateways idea was born.
“We wanted to target what Brandon does well, aside from the usual golf, fishing, swimming stuff,” Meffe explained. “You know, what do we do that’s really special?”
Carr agreed. “We really wanted to target more niche areas, so that when people Google Brandon, Gateways will come up,” he said.
It started with hiking
The group formed a committee of fellow Chamber members, and by May 2015 met again to discuss more ideas. One favorite activity of locals and visitors is the great hiking to be had around Brandon, with the Green Mountain National Forest and the Moosalamoo National Recreation Area nearby. Hiking became the first Gateway activity the group explored.
With the Green Mountain National Forest glades poised to establish 1,300 vertical feet of backcountry skiing near Brandon Gap in October 2015, avid backcountry skier and committee member George Fjeld urged the Gateways group to include it in the project.
“He said either we jump on it or let someone else grab it,” Carr said. “That’s what really led to the idea of unique offerings for the Brandon area.”
The committee started to contact more people with expertise in different areas and asked them to participate in Gateways. Additional meetings were held, and by September 2015, assignments were given to create content for each of the Gateways guides.
Funding from within
While every activity highlighted in the Gateways guides is free, the design, printing and distribution of the guides was not. But instead of selling advertising, the Chamber decided to fund the project from within its own ranks with the promotional value of the guides providing the incentive to give. They sent out a call for donations from the Chamber members and raised $2,200. The Brandon Economic Development Fund contributed an additional $1,500 to the Gateways project and the Mainstreet downtown group will cover additional costs, Carr said.
Chamber member and graphic artist Courtney Satz designed the glossy, double-sided, trifold guides at a discounted rate, Meffe said. Members Mark and Rebecca Zelis donated their time and skills to creating a Gateways website, free of charge, that is expected to launch in the coming weeks.
Meffe went on to say that the total $4,000 cost of the Gateways project is a very small price to pay for what could be a successful promotional campaign. “If this project increases business in Brandon by 10 percent, how significant would that be for Brandon?” he asked. “That’s significant, and it echoes through the community. . . . It’s promoting the best of Brandon without promoting anything. We’re doing this knowing it could be an economic boon, but all of these activities are free. This is not just a handout, this is advertising for the whole town.”
Carr added that because the guides are ad-free, the reader is not distracted or wooed one way or another and can concentrate on the activities themselves.
A hyperlocal production
The list of local folks who contributed content for each Gateway guide contains some recognizable names, a group of people who really know their subject.
Meffe and Carr emphasized that the Chamber members involved support the project because they believe in it, and they believe in Brandon.
“That’s the thing,” Meffe said. “It’s not just for visitors. It’s for employees and residents. There are things I learned [about the area] that I didn’t know.”
The project amounts to a win-win for Chamber members, local residents and any visitor coming through town this summer. Meffe and Carr said what they got from their experience far outweighs the amount of work and organization that went into the Gateways project.
“A person might ask the folks involved, ‘Why did you do all of this work, and the many hundreds or hours, why?’” Meffe said. “Because they love this place and they want to make it better.”
“It’s their passion,” Carr added.
“That’s it,” Meffe concurred. “Passion.”
Meffe said that once all of the information was gathered, it was an impressive collection of great activities, even to the Gateways committee members. “It’s truly amazing, everything it has to offer,” Meffe said. “When we put it all together, it just blew us away.”
“It’s about developing community, and that’s good for the Chamber, too,” Carr said. “It’s always good that we’re supporting locals. It’s a great little town and we want everyone to enjoy it, especially the people that live here.”
The guides are set to be printed and in place at the Stephen A. Douglas Visitor’s Center within the next week, Meffe said. The website will be up in running soon after the guides are delivered.