Anyone who lives in Willsboro — year-round or just for the summer — will tell you it is a special place.
Like many shoreline communities, it offers a peaceful lifestyle and amazing views of Lake Champlain. From one side of Willsboro Point, you can look out on a mountain-rimmed bay; from the other side, sailboats skim the broad lake between the New York shores and Vermont's Green Mountains.
Willsboro also features Noblewood, a sandy town beach tucked back in the woods, and large tracts of forestland that beckon hikers.
A new focus on hiking has led to the potential transformation of Willsboro into a destination for more than just summer and year-round residents.
The Nature Conservancy and Champlain Area Trails have been working together to develop and promote several hiking trails in the town. All are fairly easy walks and therefore attractive to a wide range of abilities.
Willsboro trails include High Point, Boquet River Nature Preserve, Sophie's Lair and the trails at Noblewood Park and Florence Hathaway Park.
Boquet River Nature Preserve, which is tucked up behind the old Willsboro Central School, will draw hikers with the widest range of abilities because the Nature Conservancy fashioned a 1.5-mile loop trail in the 110-acre preserve that is accessible to people with disabilities.
That wide, multi-use, tree-shaded pathway is billed as the longest accessible forest trail in the region built to meet federal accessibility guidelines under the Architectural Barriers Act.
But lakeside living and pleasant, family-friendly hiking trails aren't enough to sustain commerce in a small Adirondack community.
NYCO Minerals has a long-established plant in Willsboro, and Champlain Valley Milling recently moved there from Westport, opening a high-tech facility. But several of the shops that might have drawn tourists have shuttered in the past few years.
And the town's only full-size grocery store went through several owners — IGA being the most recent — before closing years ago.
Now, though, comes promise of a new venture that will transform that downtown eyesore plus link the biggest trail system in Willsboro to its main street, Route 22.
The Nature Conservancy helped negotiate a subdivision and purchased 11 more acres of land to open Boquet Nature Preserve to access from downtown. It will establish a new trailhead and parking area near the IGA lot.
Nature Conservancy has turned over the part of the property on which the IGA sits to a new nonprofit called Makers Guild Inc., which is buying the building to turn it into an environmentally oriented arts and innovation "makerspace."
“The facility will feature artisan workshops outfitted with cutting-edge tools, educational opportunities, exhibits, events and a Makers-In-Residence program,” Beverly Eichenlaub, president of Makers Guild Inc., said in describing “an amazing opportunity to cultivate collaboration and creativity in our rural community through arts, technology and innovation."
Willsboro is bristling with excitement and energy. Combined, the separate makerspace and hiking projects can start the community on a promising path toward growth.