The Berkshire Outdoors, An Asset and An Opportunity

The forthcoming outdoor recreation website is projected to inspire and sustain increased growth in the outdoor recreation sector of the Berkshire economy and community

By Elizabeth Nelson, 1Berkshire

Talk to anyone about the Berkshires, whether this is where you live, work, play, or some combination thereof, and a shared theme is likely to emerge – an appreciation for the region’s natural outdoor beauty. 

Widely known for its vibrant tourism, arts and culture scene, and outdoor recreation, the Berkshires has a long history of enchanting visitors and seducing new residents. This was especially true during the long, unsettling days of Covid when our green spaces became our safe havens, increasing exponentially in social value and popularity.

According to the Berkshire County Outdoor Recreation Plan of 2020, created by Berkshire Regional Planning Commission (BRPC) in partnership with Mill Town, over 600,000 acres make up the county, more than a third of which is protected land. Almost 30% of that protected land is available to the public for athletics, camping, cycling, fishing, hunting, motorized activity, skiing, water sports, and, of course, hiking. Mapped trails comprise 850+ miles. 

The Berkshires’ natural resources are some of our most valuable with the potential to spur economic activity and growth. To do so responsibly, as the Plan outlines in its Executive Summary, our community must determine the ways “to maintain and expand existing outdoor recreation amenities and develop new assets which will further position our region as a true outdoor recreation destination.”

One such step is the creation of a new outdoor recreation-focused website that will act as an outdoor activity clearinghouse for the entire region. This comprehensive and user-friendly tool will assist visitors and residents alike in discovering – while also protecting – the bounty of outdoor activities available in the Berkshires all year long.

“One thing we heard a lot during the Outdoor Recreation planning process was that both residents and visitors would really like to see a centralized source of information on outdoor recreation opportunities,” said Laura Brennan, Economic Development Program Manager at BRPC. “There’s so much more to enjoy if only you know about it. We already had a very extensive inventory of assets built as part of the planning work, so BRPC was able to build upon and improve that database into what will become the backbone of the new website.”

1Berkshire is a partner in this project along with Berkshire Natural Resources Council (BNRC) and the Department of Conservation & Recreation. Many other organizations were consulted and remain connected to the project. Work on the website kicked off officially in the fall of 2022. Expected completion is late 2023.

“With over 600 distinct access points to our mountains, meadows, and waterways, it’s important to provide a comprehensive resource that will support user enjoyment and safety. We’re excited this project is now underway,” said Brennan., our region’s official tourism site and the primary planning tool for Berkshire visitors – plus a useful resource for residents – will act as a parent site and companion tool. The two websites will be linked so that users may easily navigate between the two, pairing their outdoor research with cultural pursuits, dining options, and lodging plans. While the outdoor site will stand on its own, it will be designed to look and feel like a focused counterpart, making the transition from one to the other as seamless as possible.

In addition to helping users pinpoint locations that are accessible, dog and family-friendly, and equipped with restroom facilities, the site aims to spread visitors and residents across the Berkshires, encouraging visitation to lesser-known, less-crowded trails and areas. This will not only make the individual experience more enjoyable, it will serve an increasingly vital function by minimizing detrimental impact to the environment. Parking, pet waste, and nonstop footfalls can unintentionally harm delicate areas of wildlife.

“A lot of places used to be discovered by word of mouth, not well-marked trails or authorized public access,” said Becky Cushing Gop, West Regional Director for Mass Audubon. “This worked okay when the user groups were small, but now we need to respond to the increases in visitation and the pressure that’s causing on land, trails, and parking access. Through hard efforts of conservation and outdoor recreation groups working together, we now have trailheads, marked trails, trail maps, trail etiquette, and more places to recreate. From a safety standpoint, I think the website will help users have the ‘what to expect’ information needed to be better prepared for their adventures.”

This new website, along with ongoing implementation of the Plan, will also help the region make better economic development use of our rich natural capital. Ben Lamb, Vice President of Economic Development for 1Berkshire, has remarked on the need to showcase opportunities as an attractant for new business. 

“I see this as a tool to help entrepreneurs and business owners leverage this incredible identity and asset. Often it’s difficult for people to see how their business or idea might be viable until there is a robust presence that celebrates their sector of choice, and this platform will do that.”

The prediction is increased consultations and opportunities to both support and celebrate outdoor recreation-related businesses. “Our outdoor rec economy will grow over the coming years,” said Lamb.

The Plan identifies three overarching themes, Infrastructure, Communications, and Legislative/Regulatory, which make clear some of the vital next steps requiring commitment and collaboration from key stakeholders. These include improved accessibility, focused marketing, and secured funding for maintenance and development. The outdoor recreation website will play an important role as part of these key action steps, specifically greater accessibility to all levels of ability and focused outdoor rec marketing.

All involved in the project are in agreement that the need to leverage these assets for economic development must healthfully and responsibly coexist with the preservation of land and wildlife. 

“I think it’s terrific that the website will include a wide range of activities. There are countless ways into the outdoors,” said Rich Montone, Director of Development for BNRC and website committee member. “While it’s possible that birders, anglers, and mountain bikers have different relationships with the outdoors, we all have a role to play in taking care of them together. One of BNRC’s priorities is to make it as easy as possible for everybody to enjoy the outdoors, and this website will help accomplish this at scale. It will inspire champions for natural spaces and green corridors, and indirectly encourage economic support for the region. This is all great stuff.”

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2023-08-21T14:13:32-04:00July 26th, 2023|Categories: News|Tags: , , , , |

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