ADAMS, Mass. — The same global pandemic that delayed construction of the Greylock Glen Outdoor Center demonstrates the need for the project, state officials said on Wednesday.
"COVID was a horrible, really difficult, at times tragic period, but there are some silver linings in it," Gov. Charlie Baker said. "One of the biggest silver linings is the rediscovery of the outdoors.
"That's been true for the beaches, the parks, the trails, the bike paths, you name it. That's been especially true in Western Mass."
Baker, Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito and Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Kathleen Theoharides were in town to celebrate a commitment of $6.5 million in state funding for construction of the center, which is expected to break ground later this summer.
"I know we all have been changed by this pandemic, and the rediscovery of the outdoors is a beautiful thing," Polito said. "I have enjoyed my journey to every community of this commonwealth, and being someone from Central Massachusetts, I love heading west. A lot of people in the eastern part of the state think that I live in Western Mass.
"But coming out here to the far west is really a unique experience. And to all of you in Berkshire County, you have a unique responsibility. The assets that you have are so unique and are so beautiful that you are the stewards of these natural treasures, not only for the people you serve today but for generations and decades to come."
The center that has evolved from a half century of efforts to develop the Greylock Glen takes that stewardship seriously, with a planned outdoor educational center, trail network, amphitheater and camping area.
Adams' director of special projects Donna Cesan said that the town worked hard to make sure this iteration of development kept environmental protection front and center.
"The town's project started in 2004," Cesan said. "We reached out to some of the biggest opponents of past projects, which were much larger, more intense development, so they were more controversial. We reached out to some of the environmental groups, particularly Mass Audubon and Appalachian Mountain Club and asked if there wasn't common ground -- if we couldn't find a project everybody could support.
"Because we wanted it to be a strength of the Northern Berkshires, we reached out to Mass MoCA and MCLA. And those four entities were our collaborators when we came up with a collective vision in 2004."
For an area that has been discussed for development since the 1970s, the 17-year span from that vision to May's announcement of the grant may not seem like long to wait.
But since the vision started to come together, the project has been stalled by, among other things, the global economic collapse of 2008 and, of course, the COVID-19 pandemic … not to mention all the regular steps that need to be taken to make such a massive project "shovel ready."
"There were definitely major hurdles in the road," Cesan said. "But like any big, long-term project, you have to compartmentalize it. You can't get everything done. You just have to have building blocks. That's the approach we took. We focused on state permitting initially, after the planning was done, like wetlands permits. We went through [Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act]. Then we worked on local permitting.
"It's just been a building block approach. We signed the master lease agreement in 2014. It's just those major milestones along the way."
The next building blocks: run a water line to the site of the visitor center and finalize bid documents for the construction work. Cesan said she hopes to be able to get through the bidding process and schedule a ground-breaking for August or September.
After Wednesday's ceremony in a back-and-forth with reporters, Baker said that he does not believe that higher-than-anticipated costs when the bids return will be yet another "hurdle" for the development.
"If there is some sort of an issue or a problem associated with the cost of materials, we'll figure it out," Baker said. "That will not be a problem with respect to getting this done."
Cesan said that it was determined that the large public visitors center would need to be the first component before the private sector would want to get involved.
Polito said that the private dollars will follow.
"What this will do, not only to get people outdoors and to discover the beauty of our great commonwealth and the Berkshires, but it is an economic opportunity," Polito said. "Over the course of the last 50 years, your economy has changed a great deal.
"There is no longer GE. There is no longer Sprague. The cotton and paper mills are not as plentiful as they were before, providing jobs and opportunity for the people who live here. Your creative economy and tourist economy and natural assets like this are very much a part of your economy. An asset like this, when improved the right way … will provide the right opportunities for youth, for families, for older adults, for people like me who might want to do some glamping, where you have some private partners who might come in to play here and bring some private sector dollars to match your local dollars and state dollars to really see these improvements come to a fullness that is hard to imagine today."
"[Outdoor recreation] is a $10.5 billion opportunity in the state, and I think after this pandemic, the opportunity is even greater to expand access to youth across the commonwealth and in other cities and states to this great resource here in the Berkshires and in many of our communities across the commonwealth," she said. "And what a chance to marry the preservation and stewardship of this beautiful outside with economic development and all the benefit that tourism dollars coming into your community will mean."
Rep. John Barrett III, D-North Adams, called the Greylock Glen development the most important economic development project in the Northern Berkshires in the next 25 years and likened it to the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art up the road in North Adams.
"If [Baker] produces just a third of what he did in getting Mass MoCA done, we're going to have a great project in this community, not only for our generation but for future generations that are ahead of us.
"I believe it will be the catalyst to get a lot of other things happening."
Several of the state officials on hand at the outdoor ceremony and thanked local officials like Cesan and the members of the Adams Board of Selectmen who attended Wednesday's event for continuing to push for development of the glen.
Baker shared a story about one local official who pushed particularly hard this winter.
"I called [Rep. John Barrett III, D-North Adams] to check in with him as a follow-up to some of the questions he asked at one of the [COVID-19] hearings," Baker said. "We got about 10 seconds into that conversation, and then he basically bit my head off over Greylock Glen.
"As usual, in the midst of all the fire and the flame and the fury was a fair amount of fact. I took a few notes and then spent some time with Lt. Gov. Polito, who has spent a lot of time in this neighborhood and with Secretary Katie Theoharides at Environmental Affairs."
Next up, Baker and his entourage visited the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown with a $50,000 infrastructure grant
"Parks, cultural, and tourism assets. Those communities represent, in many ways, one of the most important hearts and souls of the Commonwealth," Baker said at a small gathering on one of Clark's patios. "They went through, by far, one of the most difficult challenges during the pandemic, and they ought to be one of the places where we invest going forward."
After a brief tour of the museum, the group made their way to the upper levels of the museum for a small ceremony.
Baker said his administration knew how important it was to get cultural institutions open again. For this reason, they quickly developed guidance that would help institutions open safely.
He said all residents had their own part to play and noted Commonwealth residents brought an enthusiasm to getting vaccinated and following the rules.
"All of the people who chose to get vaccinated and the people that encouraged neighbors, colleagues, and coworkers to do the same," he said. "You can look at the impact...people in the Commonwealth should be proud."
Polito said the Clark will receive a slice of a $2 million grant given to institutions across the state. She said the funds are primarily for infrastructure improvements such as boilers and roofs. She said although these projects seem less apparent, the protect the assets within museums and other establishments.
Other grants announced on Wednesday by the Baker administration included $75,000 to install a new pavilion for events in Lanesborough, $24,489 to improve air quality of indoor spaces at the Mount in Lenox and $12,900 for a 14-by-24 performance shed in Lee.
Polito, who chaired the Reopening Advisory Board, said it was important to reopen cultural institutions in some way as soon as possible. She said when these institutions are closed it affects entire communities.
"Your industry was one of the hardest hit...and when your membership and patrons are not visiting and enjoying what you have to offer, there is a ripple effect," she said.
The Clark will use their grant to improve their trail network and make the museum more accessible. Specifically, they plan to install automatic openers on some of the heavy museum doors.
Eric Cochran, chairman of the Clark Board of Trustees thanked the governor and said they relied heavily on the administration's guidance when reopening.
Williamstown Board of Selectmen Chairman Andrew Hogeland agreed and added that the Clark is incredibly important to Williamstown's identity and economy.
Hinds spoke and said it was clear that the state had to continue to support cultural institutions as the
Commonwealth bounces back from the pandemic.
Barrett added that institutions such as the Clark and Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art are critical to the Berkshires.
"What we found was economic development," Barrett said, referring to the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. "I believed it saved this area and helped build some culture."
State Rep. "Smitty" Pignatelli spoke and said the Clark would fit into any major city in the country although, pointing to the campus, was unsure if such a stunning backdrop could be recreated.
North Adams Mayor Tom Bernard was the last to speak. Bernard spent the day with the governor and said as the "strange visitor from another municipality" he heard a lot of familiar themes throughout the day.
"We heard partnership, we heard leadership, we heard investment, innovation. Those are the things that are going to keep us charging back in the Berkshires this summer," he said. "We have been knocked down before, and this one feels different. It does not feel like we took a big step back. We took a pause."
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Adams Board of Health to Rewrite COVID-19 Directive
By Jack GuerinoiBerkshires Staff
ADAMS, Mass. — The Board of Health will rewrite its COVID-19 Public Health Directive to establish more clarity in the advisory document.
The board said it will reconsider some of the wording and content, and Chairman David Rhoads agreed to pass the advisory document off to member Peter Hoyt.
"I guess what we are reiterating is what we have been saying for the past 15 months: wear a mask, wash your hands, social distance, and by the way there is a vaccine out there," Hoyt said. "... I think what we are trying to do is just reiterate that we don't want things to spiral out of control again."
On Sept. 9, the Board of Health held an emergency meeting to discuss the directive that asks the town to re-up its efforts to combat COVID-19 with more stringent mask and sanitation policies.
The board on Wednesday voted for a shift of 20 percent more to the commercial side. This sets the residential rate at $21.03 per $1,000 evaluation, down 23 cents from last year, and commercial rate at $26.34, up $1.10.
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The proposed park will abut the Ashuwilticook Rail Trail and will have as one of its central features the Coal and Grain Elevator building. The historic building was used to store coal and grain, but now sits as a relic off Columbia Street.
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