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Residents getting used to Waterbury Reservoir again

WATERBURY CENTER, Vt. --As soon as school let out, Anne Latulippe and Erica Campbell of North Duxbury didn't waste any time Friday getting their kids to Waterbury Reservoir.

"I've been waiting and waiting," Latulippe said as her children, ages 4 and 6, played near where the green lawn met the water.

For seven years, there was nothing more than a trickle of water. Now, it's open for business again, after $24 million in repairs to that dam below it.

The official opening of the beach is set for June 9, when free kayak and canoe rentals and free ice cream are planned.

But people are already rediscovering the Waterbury Center State Park, a day-use area that for decades was popular with families with children. In 2000, the reservoir had to be drained because of fears that the dam that holds back the Little River could fail, sending a catastrophic wall of water downstream.

Waterbury Center Assistant Park Ranger Rilke Greenmun said up to 100 people are using the park, some just driving in to see if the reservoir has water again.

"A lot of people are coming in to get their seasons' passes," Greenmun said.

To the west, down an arm of the reservoir, workers at the Little River State Park, which has 101 camping sites, are eager for its first season in almost a decade with the water at its correct level.

"I am still getting a lot of phone calls from people asking about the water levels," said Little River Ranger Lesli Rynyk.

While Little River stayed open when the reservoir was drained, the lower water level caused erosion along what had been the shoreline and engineers ordered that a section remain closed for several years while repairs were made, Rynyk said.

The 850-acre reservoir, the ninth-largest body of water in Vermont, was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps beginning in 1935.

But when it was lowered by 40 feet seven years ago, it left the Waterbury Center park without water. At Little River, there was some, but not what visitors had become accustomed to.

The repairs, which started in 2002, were completed last year. The reservoir began refilling last August.

It could have to be drained again, to replace the gates that control water level. The gate project could be as expensive as the dam repairs.

But Darren Allen, a spokesman for the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, said the gates would not have to be repaired for another eight to 10 years, possibly longer.

Back at the day-use area, Greenmun said the park crew was thrilled to be greeting visitors again. During the years the dam was drained, the day-use area was maintained by a regular work crew. The lawns were kept mowed waiting for the water to return.

"I think it was a struggle to keep them busy," Greenmun said.