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Hinds, Tourism Committee See Outdoor Recreation As New Direction In Berkshires

The state’s tourism, arts and cultural development leaders discussed existing and new proposals in western Massachusetts before touring the Berkshires Monday. 

State Senator Adams Hinds hosted the Joint Committee on Tourism, Arts and Cultural Development for a tour of the Berkshires.

At a roundtable at Hancock Shaker Village, Hinds, a Pittsfield Democrat and the Committee’s Senate Chair, says the region is a case study of how tourism can bolster economic development.

“A lot of what we are doing as a committee is really working with the administration to ensure that they feel the same way because quite honestly there has been some back and forth,” Hinds says.

Tourism is the third largest industry in the state and the region. The Committee is charged with reviewing Massachusetts’ tourism policies and budgetary constraints.

Republican Governor Charlie Baker vetoed several Berkshire-related tourism, arts and cultural development line items in the 2018 budget. In September, the Legislature voted to override many of those vetoes, including $2 million in funding for the Massachusetts Cultural Council.

Lindsey Schmid is the marketing director for 1Berkshire, the region’s economic development agency. She says the organization’s marketing campaign reached 55 million consumers last year.

“We do this year-round,” Schmid says. “So it’s not just a summertime push.”

Schmid says the agency’s social media accounts reach roughly 30,000 people a day.

“About five years ago, we really shifted what our thinking was, in terms of what drives our message, and I think for a long time it was culture, culture, culture and I do think that is the backbone here but I don’t think that can continue to be the message that we are driving out. It is not speaking to the younger demographic. And it’s really necessarily getting those folks to think about living here,” Schmid says.

Instead, Schmid suggests the region lead with outdoor recreation.

Hinds, an avid bicyclist, agrees outdoor activities are essential to retaining young people in Berkshire County. The region is experiencing a drastic population decline.

“To me it means that you can, as a strategy, be very clear about how you create an attractive space for those 20-30 year-olds,” Hinds says, “but for everyone obviously.”

There are outdoor recreational projects throughout Berkshire County, such as the development of the Greylock Glen in Adams and the expansion of the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail in North Adams for on-and-off road biking.

But Hinds says part of the problem is that development is happening within its own niche. Community proponents are calling for multi-use trails and outdoor projects.

“You can see there is a natural overlap saying ‘Hey, within 30 miles we have 150 miles of trail’ or however that works,” Hinds says. “So there is a regional component that is worth noting.”

Dom Sacco is the western Massachusetts regional director for the state’s Department of Conservation and Recreation.

“A good portion of the space available, the open space available for outdoor recreation in the western part of the space is sometimes challenging for multi-use,” Sacco says.

Challenging, because available open space can abut commercial and residential areas – like it does along the proposed North Adams/Williamstown Bike Path. Some area residents living near the proposed trail have protested the plan. 

State Representative Cory Atkins, a Concord Democrat and co-chair of the Joint Committee on Tourism, Arts and Cultural Development, says outdoor activity is a must, especially for young people.

“Kids only spend an average of six minutes a day outside,” Atkins says. “This is drastically different for those of us who were free-ranged kids and grew up without 24/7 programming.”

Another stop on the tour was the Extreme Model Railroad and Contemporary Architecture Museum in North Adams, being developed by former Guggenheim director Thomas Krens. Krens brought on famed architect Frank Gehry for the project in September. 

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