"They're going to eat in the restaurants. They are going to go to the fly shop. They are going to go to the bike shop. That's what we are trying to encourage here. We have some of the most of the beautiful natural resources in the world right here in our backyard and we'd be foolish not to try to maximize it and take advantage of that," state Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Matthew Beaton said.
Mayor Linda Tyer, and Beaton see Pittsfield as particularly well positioned to promote and benefit from outdoor recreation. At Onota Lake, for example, Tyer envisions having kayak and boat rentals coupled with yurt or other types of camping opportunities. The Berkshire Rowing and Sculling Association also uses the boathouse and can be seen on the lake often and William College holds Ivy league regattas on Onota Lake.
Tyer wants to know what more can be done with Onota Lake and Burbank Park.
The mayor took Beaton on Thursday to the Controy Pavilion, showing him where she'd like to see a new boathouse built. She sees a lower level storing the boats for those who use the lake regularly as well as rentals. And the upper floor would feature community space so the lakeside use by family reunions, Live on Lake concerts, and other events will continue.
"We need destinations and a formal, state-of-the-art boathouse is what we're chasing," the city's Parks and Open Spaces Manager James McGrath said.
It is only one small improvement eyed for Onota Lake but there are plenty more that can be done -- an upgraded boathouse is the low hanging fruit toward what park can eventually be.
In his notebook, Beaton wrote down "master plan for Burbank Park" as a note to himself toward how to help the city reach that vision.
"We can't do these things by ourselves. We really rely on our friends from the state to push these projects across the finish line," Tyer said.
Beaton also had written down boat ramps at Pontoosuc Lake, the Westside Riverway Park, and Springside Park. Beaton had also taken a trip to the Springside House that is partway through a multiphase renovation. In the end, the former Parks Department building is hoped to be the hub of activity for all of the users who use the 300-acre park.
"It is such a diverse park and it offers such a range of activities for in-city neighbors and for others that visit our city. We are looking at the Springside House as being the starting point for folks who visit Springside Park," McGrath said.
The historic mansion has had its foundations and portions of the roof repaired. Water issues were resolved and the porch was fully rebuilt and painted. The city has money lined up to continue with the exterior renovations of the building and eventually move to the inside.
Right now there are a number of groups using the park from mountain biking organizations, yoga, and gardening to the Chestnut tree orchard. Eventually, the city sees the mansion's rooms being leased to those organizations.
Tyer and McGrath can point to outdoor recreation projects throughout the city that they'd like to see completed. It has become one of the fundamental philosophies Tyer has embraced for the Berkshire's economic future and it is a fundamental goal that has the state is currently wrapping its arms around as well.
It isn't just about providing things to do, but using the outdoor recreation as an economic driver, being environmentally friendly, and promoting health and well-being.
"The exact way [Tyer] is thinking about it is precisely the way I am thinking about it on a statewide level," Beaton said.
Nationally, the outdoor recreation industry is estimated to drive some $887 billion in consumer spending. It creates an estimated 7.6 million jobs and generates some $59.2 billion in state and local taxes. It drives not only the tourism industry but also spin-off businesses to support it.
For example, a tourist might come to the Berkshires for mountain biking and stay at a hotel and eat at local restaurants. But, there will also need to be mountain biking stores and repair shops to support the activity. Further, outdoor recreation is a draw for many who want to live with easy access to such opportunities. It can attract new businesses and new residents.
The chestnut tree orchard has grown significantly in the last three or four years.
Beaton says Western Massachusetts is specially positioned to reap benefits from a bolstered outdoor recreation economy because of the amount of conserved land.
"Pittsfield is uniquely well placed geographically. It is an economic center in an area that so much opportunity. You'd be hard pressed to find a city with so many natural resources that can be used just in the city proper and then go just beyond the city where you have Mount Greylock, October Mountain, all of the resources under the state's purview, all of the conservation organizations. It is an urban center located with probably the most abundant natural resources the commonwealth has to provide," Beaton said.
Beaton said the Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs has more than 90 grant programs cities and towns can currently tap into for projects. They range from money for physical construction to Pittsfield using a grant program to hire boat monitors to help keep invasive zebra mussels from invading Onota and Pontoosuc lakes.
Beaton is hoping to get an even better bang for the buck through support grants that are particularly geared toward the outdoor recreation economy. He is identifying major partners and working with them to develop a statewide plan to bolster that economy.
"This way of thinking is in its infancy right now. We are really trying to figure out scope and scale," Beaton said.
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