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Mohawk Trail Woodlands Partnership Discusses Priorities for Forest Center

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The executive committee of the Mohawk Trail Woodlands Partnership on Thursday encouraged collaborators working on ideas for a forest center not to reinvent the wheel.
A pair of students in Williams College's Environmental Planning and Design program gave a presentation to the board about a survey they plan to assess priorities for the center, "an ambitious, somewhat nebulous concept right now but ... part of the enabling legislation establishing the partnership," according to the partnership's Chair Hank Art.
That legislation empowered a collaboration of 19 towns and cities in Berkshire and Franklin Counties to increase natural resource-based economic development and promote sustainable forestry practices in the region.
Sabrine Brismeur and Abby Matheny of Williams are working with the partnership to develop early concepts of what a permanent home for the MTWP might include and where it might be located.
To that end, the pair developed a survey that they will send to the MTWP board, representatives of local nonprofits, forest landowners in the region, community leaders and other stakeholders to gauge what they want to see the center provide.
Several board members on Thursday's video conference advised the students to include in their research a review of any similar facilities to see what works and what doesn't.
"Are there best practices for how visitors centers are developed, how they present their information?" said Mark Buccowich, the partnership's liaison from the U.S. Forest Service. "Take advantage of work that's already been done. Do we know what the public likes and what they would respond to?
"The National Parks do visitors centers all day long. I think the parks service would be a great reference for you. Maybe just call up the Acadia visitors center and see if there is someone there you could talk to."
Buccowich also suggested the pair reach out to an official at the commonwealth's Department of Conservation and Recreation who deals with its visitor centers.
Other people on the call pointed to similar facilities in the Catskills and Adirondacks in New York and, closer to home, the Mass Audubon Society's Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary in Lenox.
Several participants noted that the forest center would not just be for visitors. It also would serve residents of the Mohawk Trail region.
"We have to think about how we might have exhibits and brochures about best practices, about all the knowledge a farmer has about our region," said Whit Sanford of Shelburne Falls. "It's a different perspective, but it's a valid one. And it's the perspective that will keep us rural."
The Brismeur and Matheny designed a survey that asks respondents to think about the relative importance of seven basic elements that could be included in the forest center that combine resources for "visitors" and "locals":
an informational and booking center for regional tourism and economic development;
 repository for technical assistance and a consulting center on sustainable practices;
 a demo forest and woodworking center to showcase sustainable forestry techniques;
 a public education center and field trip/summer camp destination to focus on the region's landscape and history, including that of indigenous peoples;
 a forestry research center focusing on innovative forest management;
 a forest preserve with hiking trails and tours;
 and a year-round shop and monthly marketplace showcasing regional producers and services.

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Pittsfield Picks Veteran Employees as ARPA Fund Managers

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Two familiar faces will be serving as the city's special projects managers for the $41 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds.

Director of Community Development Deanna Ruffer and former Director of Public Health Gina Armstrong will share the one full-time position as co-managers.

Mayor Linda Tyer on Monday informed the City Council by email that Ruffer would be resigning from her current post in early to mid-February to take on this new role.

Rather than a resignation, Ruffer sees this as a transition. Armstrong resigned from her position in September, citing a need for more balance in her life and to spend more time with her family.

In the fall, the special projects manager position was created to oversee the city's allocation of ARPA funding. It will likely only be in place over the next five years, until the spending deadline in 2026, and will be paid in full through the ARPA funds.

"I am very excited to transition from the city's Community Development Director Position to co-special project manager for the City's American Rescue Plan program. This opportunity coincides with a personal desire to adjust my work-life balance to allow me to spend more time with family and pursuing personal interests," Ruffer wrote to iBerkshires in an email.

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