Brownstone Exploration & Discovery Park
Where some people saw an old hole in the ground, three brothers saw a gold mine (of sorts), for both themselves and the town of Portland.
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, Portland was renowned for its brownstone, which was used in buildings in Manhattan and across the country, including at Wesleyan University in Middletown, which owned the deed to the quarries for 50 years in the 1800s. Flooding in the 1930s eventually prevented any further quarrying at the site, and operations were shut down.
After sitting abandoned for decades, in 1999 Portland bought the former quarries right off Main Street, next to the Connecticut River, and 2,000 feet of riverfront for $1,050,000.
Following a few planning studies and the declaration of the site as a National Historic Landmark, the Hayes brothers—Ed, Frank and Sean—approached the town with an idea to start a sports park there. The proposal was approved at a town meeting and Portland entered into a 25-year agreement with Brownstone Exploration & Discovery Park in 2006 that the land would be used for an adventure park.
Trying to build upon the fun of their youth—like many Portland kids, the Hayeses used to swim in the abandoned quarries during the summer—the brothers opened Brownstone, creating summertime adventures for the whole family including swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving, rock climbing, zip lining, wake boarding and a water slide.
The park, open from May to September, has been an unqualified hit, drawing thousands of action-seekers each summer from all over.
The park also gives back to the local community. As part of the agreement, the town receives 15 percent of the gate receipts. With more than 300,000 visitors to the park since it opened, this deal has earned the town almost $1 million.
“Our public-private partnership is a huge success and is working extremely well,” says First Selectwoman Susan Bransfield. “Portland residents enter the park at half price, and in addition there are four days of free admission to town residents every year.”
Because of Brownstone’s success, Sean Hayes has since bought a nearby ski area in Middlefield, which he restored and opened this winter as Powder Ridge Mountain Park & Resort. He hopes the synergy between the two properties will be beneficial to both him and the surrounding communities.
- Viktoria Sundqvist
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