By Tom Ayres, Senior Staff Writer
The Pomfret Selectboard has okayed a road closure, traffic pattern changes, and no parking zones for Cloudland and Barber Hill roads in South Pomfret during the upcoming fall foliage season from Saturday, Sept. 23 through Sunday, Oct. 15.
Following three months of deliberations and consultations with Woodstock officials, Pomfret Selectboard members unanimously approved the autumn travel restrictions at their regular meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 16. In a notice and memo to the Pomfret community released following the meeting, town officials summarized the traffic changes planned for foliage season. Beginning Sept. 23, Cloudland Road south of Barber Hill Road and over the border into Woodstock will be closed to motor vehicles. Barber Hill Road in South Pomfret will be closed to eastbound motor vehicles and parked or standing vehicles will be prohibited in designated areas around the intersection of Cloudland and Barber Hill roads near the location of Sleepy Hollow Farm, which is widely held to be the most photographed location in Vermont by leaf-peeping tourists each fall.
“Foliage season traffic in this area has steadily increased during the last several years, causing significant safety, environmental, aesthetic, and quality of life issues,” the Pomfret Selectboard noted in the Aug. 16 memo, citing challenges “created primarily by extraordinary tourism interest in private properties.” Town officials noted that the travel restrictions that will commence Sept. 23 “are part of a comprehensive effort, in coordination with area residents, to address these issues on the ground, through dialogue with local government partners, and on social and other information media.”
Exceptions to the traffic pattern changes will be granted to all Cloudland Road, Barber Hill Road, Maxham Road, and Orchard Hill residents and their guests, as well as for deliveries, contractors, and service providers. All other Pomfret and Woodstock residents will also be permitted to travel within the closure area of their respective towns. (Closure of the southernmost portion of Cloudland Road in Woodstock, near its intersection with Old River Road, was authorized by the Town of Woodstock Selectboard at its meeting on Tues., Aug. 15. Town officials have yet to decide on enforcement and parking restrictions along the Woodstock portion of Cloudland Road, nor have they decided on any potential financial contribution to the traffic management effort.) “Individuals actively engaged in required agricultural practices, accepted silvicultural practices or forestry operations [and] operators of emergency vehicles while responding to emergencies” will also be exempted from the foliage season travel restrictions, the Pomfret memo noted.
The decision to permit Pomfret and Woodstock residents to travel through their respective impacted areas during the foliage closure followed concerns voiced at the Pomfret Selectboard meeting on Aug. 16 that town residents shouldn’t be prohibited from using any public road in the community. “I have a serious problem with being a taxpaying resident of both the town and state and paying federal taxes that help support roads and being told that I can’t travel on that road,” town resident Doug Tuttle told selectboard members during the public comment period on Aug. 16.
No parking will be allowed in the general vicinity of Sleepy Hollow Farm and the intersection of Cloudland and Barber Hill roads during the foliage timeframe. Parking and standing of vehicles will be prohibited on both sides of Cloudland Road from immediately north of the driveway to 3655 Cloudland Road to immediately south of the driveway to 2763 Cloudland Road, a distance of nearly a mile. Similarly, parking on Barber Hill Road will be restricted on both sides from the Cloudland Road intersection to immediately east of the driveway to 1178 Barber Hill Road, a distance of just over half a mile.
Pomfret Selectboard Vice Chair Ben Brickner, who played a lead role in drafting the foliage season traffic restrictions and ushering them through to passage, was queried on Sunday as to whether the designated no parking zones will be sufficient to discourage photo-snapping visitors from parking elsewhere on the two roads and walking to the wildly popular Sleepy Hollow Farm vista. “Beyond the restricted area parking [it is] potentially possible, but you can’t park on or block the traveled way. These are pretty narrow roads,” Brickner said. “It will be difficult even outside the no parking zone for cars to find places where they can safely remove their vehicle from the traveled way.”
Brickner added that Windsor County Sheriff’s officers, under a current contract with Pomfret, will regularly monitor the area throughout foliage season to assure compliance with the three-week-long travel and parking restrictions. “Their primary goals will be, first and foremost, safety and ensuring access for emergency vehicles, and then also ensuring that the impact of the traffic on local residents is managed to the point where it is tolerable,” Brickner added.
Signage and barriers indicating the travel and parking restrictions will be erected by the Pomfret Highway Department and the Woodstock Public Works Department at the start of the 2023 foliage season and taken down at its conclusion. At the southern end of Cloudland Road in Woodstock, two signs facing south will read “Road Closed (Local Residents Only).” Two eight-foot barricades or reflective barrels narrowing the traveled way at the location will still allow local and emergency vehicular traffic to pass, per an agreement that Brickner and Pomfret Selectboard Chair John Peters Jr. forged with Woodstock Municipal Manager Eric Duffy, Fire and Safety Chief David Green, and Police Chief Joe Swanson. Similar signage and barricades will be placed along Cloudland Road at the Woodstock/South Pomfret line.
Moving northward along Cloudland Road in Pomfret, additional road closure signage will be posted at a point immediately south of Barber Hill Road and a “Detour” sign will direct traffic onto Barber Hill Road eastbound, given that it will be the primary egress from the area. Cloudland Road northward to Galaxy Hill Road will be fully closed to all but local traffic and emergency vehicles. Two reflective barrels narrowing the traveled roadway will also be erected immediately south of the Cloudland-Barber Hill intersection. More signage will also be posted near the Cloudland Farm restaurant driveway and near the intersection of Cloudland and Galaxy Hill Roads, about three miles north of Sleepy Hollow Farm. Reflective barrels will also be placed just south of Galaxy Hill Road.
The question of enforcement of the travel restrictions has been central to the dialog between Pomfret officials, Cloudland Road area residents, other townspeople, and the Woodstock Town Selectboard since May. Per its Aug. 16 decision, the Pomfret Selectboard will ask the Windsor County Sheriff’s Department to direct its existing town patrols to the closure area for eight hours of the contracted ten hours per week during the upcoming foliage season to enforce the temporary traffic pattern changes and parking restrictions. Sheriff’s officers will be empowered to issue warnings or citations as appropriate. “Area residents will coordinate directly with the Sheriff’s Department to direct these existing patrols within the closure area,” the Aug. 16 selectboard memo stated.
At their own cost and expense, residents of Cloudland and Barber Hill roads are also preparing to contract with the Windsor County Sheriff’s Department or other licensed traffic control professionals for additional patrols during the upcoming foliage season. Area residents will provide town officials and the Woodstock Municipal Manager with notice of any such additional patrols. The residents will also be responsible for monitoring and replacing signage or barriers that are disturbed or removed during the foliage season. To this end, area residents two months ago established a GoFundMe page to raise money to support the neighborhood in its own enforcement and communications efforts. As of Monday, the “Save Cloudland Road” fundraising effort had collected nearly $14,000 towards its $25,000 goal.
“Over the past several years, Cloudland Road (and the small roads leading to Cloudland Road) have experienced an unprecedented surge in Instagram- and TikTok-fueled tourist ‘influencers,’ who earn money from sponsors and have monetized and turned a private home on Cloudland Road into a social media photo destination,” the GoFundMe organizers wrote to introduce their fundraising effort in June. “They [have] changed the neighborhood landscape to the point that it is untenable. During fall foliage season, crowds commonly surge to hundreds of people at one time, and tour bus companies have even joined the fracas. Cloudland and surrounding roads become impassable during the fall, and poorly behaved tourists have damaged roads, had accidents, required towing out of ditches, trampled gardens, defecated on private property, parked in fields and driveways, and verbally assaulted residents,” the local fund drive organizers continued.
“Most of these folks arrive for a selfie in front of one private residence, and what was once a ‘word-of-mouth,’ occasional drive-by has become a ‘word-of-mouse’ selfie destination,” the community activists continued. “Our plea is simple: as a community, the residents surrounding Cloudland Road have come together to work with the towns of Pomfret and Woodstock to bring peace, safety, and civility back to the families who live here. The plan will require funding for sheriff deputies to man temporary closures, and for new and increased signage. Can you help fund this plan to reclaim our neighborhood?” the organizers queried.
The ”Save Cloudland Road” fundraising page can be found at gofundme.com/f/save-cloudland-road.
There is a communications plan in place regarding the upcoming traffic pattern changes for the 2023 foliage season in Pomfret and Woodstock. A summary of the traffic restrictions will be published by the Pomfret Selectboard in at least two public places, as required by state statute. Notices will be posted in the Standard on or about Sept. 14 and on the Pomfret and Woodstock listservs on or about Sept. 12 and 21, and then weekly through Oct. 12.