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New report on Berkshire outdoor recreation planning shows public support for developing trails, disinterest in expanded hunting

Berkshire Regional Planning Commission

In 2020, the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission and private investment firm Mill Town Capital released a report on the county’s outdoor recreation offerings. The over 200 page plan offered both an overlook of the region’s considerable natural resources and recommendations for how they could be further developed. Now, a 2021 addendum to the report has been released with more feedback from the community on its findings, as well as with updates on projects outlined in the initial plan. WAMC spoke with BRPC Economic Development Program Manager Laura Brennan about the addendum.

BRENNAN: The 2020 plan really covered a wide range of outdoor activity, everything from biking and hiking, to swimming, boating, and motorized activity, outdoor athletics. We also approached outdoor recreation from a number of key themes that we felt were important in order for the outdoor recreation industry to grow in our region. And those were infrastructure, communications, and legislative or regulatory- So, things that could be done on a county wide or even statewide scale that would affect multiple activity types.

WAMC: What role did concerns about environmentalism or conservation play in that report?

So, the report is not a full open space and recreation plan as you might have for an individual municipality. So we didn't get very in depth into conservation or environmental studies. But it is certainly recognized as an important thing to consider in terms of impact anytime outdoor recreation development is happening. That's a given for us. But it's also clear in the kinds of responses that we received to different potential tasks or advancements or activity that might have to do with outdoor recreation development. The less impact it had, in terms of the environment, the more popular it was amongst our survey respondents.

The addendum was largely informed by this survey. What kind of questions were you asking folks? And can you expand on the kind of responses that you got?

So we actually did a second survey after we published our first plan. And that second survey allowed people to give us a sense of how much they did or did not support any given activity or advancement in an activity. So for instance, someone who was reacting to the idea of expanded amenities and information at trailheads might feel very strongly that that was needed, and they may have less enthusiasm for some of the other recommendations. So it gave us really a reinforcement of what we had heard in the first go around, which hopefully will help us as a region to prioritize investments in outdoor recreation.

What were some of the less popular responses that you got from the survey?

The things that received the lower ratings, a couple of them were expanded access to hunting, either by adding hunting on Sundays, which is currently not allowed in many states and is not allowed in Massachusetts. That was not a popular idea amongst our respondents, nor was expanding the land on which hunting is available. We can't say for sure what the folks who filled out the survey participate in themselves, but my guess is that the the responses we received were from folks who are looking to do other things on on those areas of land during those times.

The addendum also features some updates on projects that the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission and other entities are taking on. What are some of those updates?

So most of the projects are actually being managed or led by other entities, so we are serving as a clearinghouse and a collector of information. I would say one of the highlights is the acquisition of Hanging Mountain in Sandisfield for much expanded outdoor rock climbing in Berkshire County. This is something that we have not really been able to tout as something that Berkshire County offers in any range in the past. But since they opened the first 70 climbs in October of this year, that story can change. And it really expands the level of sort of high adventure that Berkshire County will be able to be known for.

What else is waiting in the wings for recreational opportunities in the county? What's coming on down the pike?

Well, in the most recent round of grant awards from the MassTrails program, there were a pretty long list, I want to say maybe 10 or 11 entities, that received what totals over $600,000 in outdoor recreation investments to either improve trails or to purchase equipment that would be able to help in the maintenance of trails. That's a commonwealth program, the MassTrails grants. And then we're also waiting on some news that hopefully will come through soon on the $4 billion spending bill that was finalized by the legislature just last Friday and is currently awaiting the governor's signature. If that goes through as as written, then there would be a substantial investment for an outdoor recreation website that would cover the major assets in the area and will provide GIS level mapping, information on safety and conditions, and guidance regarding the difficulty levels of different treks.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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