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Walk on the Wild Side

Joan Lupa shows off a baby two-toed sloth

Joan Lupa shows off a baby two-toed sloth, one of many exotic animals that have found a home at Lupa Zoo.

It’s early in the morning at Lupa Zoo.

And while visitors have yet to arrive, the creatures that live there are doing all they can to make their presence known.

Laughing kookaburras have been screeching since 4 a.m. to announce a new day, macaws are squawking loudly, monkeys chatter excitedly as they execute gracious leaps in their cages, and the braying of donkeys echoes throughout the entire 15-acre park.

But the sounds don’t penetrate into the community; although the sanctuary houses more than 300 species that include a giraffe, llamas, two camels, a menagerie of monkeys, a black leopard, a large reindeer, a zebra, arctic foxes, bears, and oddities such as capybaras (large rodents from South America), it’s a hidden treasure that cannot be seen or heard from the front gate on Nash Hill Road in Ludlow.

When visitors pass through the gate, they travel along a long driveway that leads to a spacious parking lot. The roadway is peppered with cages that house strutting ostriches and other animals, and when they leave their vehicles, guests enter an exotic world created by Henry Lupa and his wife Joan, who painstakingly carved out a habitat for animals in the deep woods behind their home with enclosures that mimic what each creature would find in its natural environment.

Joan glows as she talks about their venture into the unknown and its success, and is tearful when her late husband Henry is mentioned.

They were married for 48 years before his passing two years ago, and the zoo was a dream he nurtured for years before they brought it to reality in a way that exceeded their wildest imaginations. “Henry wanted to create a natural habitat for animals that would serve the community,” Joan recalled, as she spoke about her husband’s living legacy, adding that it’s a very good place for children as well as adults, who stroll along the shaded brick walkways and relax on benches as they watch the animals and learn about species from all over the world.

Her pride in and passion for the venture is evident as she talks about the school groups it hosts and the excitement the zoo generates in visitors, how her son brings some of the animals into inner-city schools and nursing homes to educate people and make them happy, and how the family does everything possible to keep entrance fees affordable so the zoo is accessible to everyone.

It’s no easy feat, because the annual operating costs for the privately owned operation are $400,000, which doesn’t include the cost of snowplowing and other services provided by the family’s company, N.L. Construction, which started out as Henry’s landscaping business and morphed into a larger entity, thanks to hard work by him and Joan, who always played a major role in the business.

That same company, which specializes in commercial projects, including schools, fire stations, and other municipal buildings, provided the bulk of the money needed to build the zoo and the funds needed to maintain it.

And although Joan refers to it as a “hobby,” much of the endless labor required to keep the zoo open is donated by family members who don’t earn a salary. They include Joan; the couple’s son Wally, who is a veterinary assistant; his wife Ewa, who does the bookkeeping; and Joan’s two grandsons.

“Our son Stanley is the only family member who gets paid,” Joan said, explaining that he’s in charge of educational programs and oversees personnel, which include a zookeeper and two staff members. “But everything else is accomplished by a great staff of volunteers, an annual fund-raiser, and grants, which have made a significant difference.”

The business community also plays a small role in the upkeep: some companies sponsor an animal, while others send volunteers to do much-needed work.

“Last year, 30 volunteers from Keller Williams Realty painted the cages, benches, tables, and entranceway and did a fabulous job,” said Joan. “And this year, volunteers from Big Y in Ludlow helped us plant flowers in all of our gardens; it was a huge help.”

For this issue and its focus on travel and tourism, BusinessWest looks at how Henry Lupa’s dream became reality, and how his family continues to keep that dream alive.

Near and Deer

Joan and Henry grew up on small farms in Poland that were self-sustaining. They emigrated to the U.S. in 1964, married a year later, purchased a 32-acre parcel in Ludlow in 1976, then bought their house and an additional three acres when the adjacent parcel became available, then added 13 more adjoining acres in 1991.

They had grown up with animals, and by the ’70s, Henry was raising pheasants and miniature horses.

“They were our pets, and he did it for our family’s enjoyment,” Joan said, noting that, by the ’90s, the neighborhood children and their sons’ friends made a habit of visiting frequently to see their small menagerie.

After Henry emigrated, he started a landscaping company, which he grew into the highly successful N.L. Construction business, in which Joan played an active role. They were very busy with their business, home, and family, so she was shocked one day when he told her he wanted to open a zoo.

Lupa Zoo’s giraffe enjoys some branches fed to him by Joan Lupa

Lupa Zoo’s giraffe enjoys some branches fed to him by Joan Lupa, who stands on a high platform built so guests can enjoy the experience.

“I thought he was off the wall,” Joan recalled. But she agreed to try it, since the initial application was inexpensive, and before they knew it, they were deep into the complex licensing and permitting process. “It was a challenge to put everything together, but we wanted to serve the community, and in 1996 we received a license from the Mass. Wildlife and Fisheries Department and the United States Department of Agriculture, and starting buying exotic animals. The rest is history.”

It’s a storied history well worth recounting, as the couple turned an idea that seemed … well, nearly impossible, at least to Joan, into a reality that grew beyond anything they envisioned. “You start something, and when you come to the point where it is well-received by the community, you just can’t stop and go back. You have keep going,” Joan said. So, although the construction company continued to thrive, after Henry retired due to health issues, he devoted himself entirely to the zoo, and Joan continues to work there year-round.

But talking about the past takes away from the excitement of the zoo, so she jumps up, eager to show off its occupants.

Her first stop is inside one of their two heated barns, which are backed up by generators and used to house many of the animals during the winter. She heads straight for her newest favorites, twin baby two-toed sloths.

“I’m going to take the female out; the male tends to bite,” she said as she reached inside and removed a baby who stuck its head out, then buried it in the towel she held beneath it.

A short distance away, she stopped at a cage containing squirrel monkeys which leapt from bar to bar to get close to her as she called out to them. “They think I’m going to give them a banana,” she laughed, explaining that this is something she does in the evening. “They recognize me, but it’s all about the food.”

Joan told BusinessWest that visitors are allowed to feed the hoof stock with compressed hay and grain they buy on the premises and place in tubes, but no one is allowed to have direct contact with any of the animals. However, an exception is made for their most famous resident — a 20-foot-tall giraffe they’ve owned for 15 years.

A special staircase was created so patrons can climb to see its face and feed it carrots and branches from nearby trees, and it takes his time and chews slowly as Joan offers it a handful of food.

Paws for Effect

After leaving the giraffe’s enclosure, she pointed out other animals, providing details about their personalities.

She knows them all, and even though the zoo houses many endangered species, every creature in it was carefully chosen. “You have to study where it comes from to figure out the kind of environment it will need and the size of its cage; we do whatever we can to make our animals comfortable, and we do it for all the right reasons,” Joan explained, adding that their exhibits mimic the species’ natural environments.

Since the ability to hide is important to the health and well-being of many of the creatures, sometimes visitors have to take time to look closely to discover where they are.

The zoo’s newest additions are a pair of Asian river otters. “We got them this spring, and they’re very, very playful,” Joan said as she stood near their enclosure and watched them roll over and over near a fast-moving water slide.

She told BusinessWest that the upkeep of the zoo and maintenance of the facility is never-ending. But the work the family has done and continues to do is a labor of love and has less to do with meeting government regulations than ensuring that the animals and patrons are happy.

But she admits it’s not easy to comply with the USDA codes required for different animals, and they are closely monitored. “We’re also inspected several times each year by the Board of Health; they keep an eye on all exhibitors,” Joan said. “We’re doing a very good job, but the government wants to be sure that animals are taken care of according to their needs.”

As she walked, she added that the cost of building the zoo was mitigated in part by the fact that the family’s construction company used recycled materials it obtained when it demolished old structures to build it. Joan pointed them out during the tour; they ranged from bricks used to create the walkways to large boulders inside cages, to a railing taken from the grounds of a school in the Berkshires.

“We used all of our resources, and instead of throwing away lumber, we recycled it; most of the fencing comes from job sites, and a lot of it was donated by local contractors,” she noted.

Many of the extras in the zoo are paid for by grants, such as the signs outside each cage that contain the name of the animal inside, a map showing its natural habitat, and printed information about its lifestyle and habits.

“We bought them with a grant we received seven years ago from the Community Foundation,” Joan explained. “They’ve had to be replaced since then, but they are important so children can identify each animal and where it comes from by looking at its name, a picture of it, and the map.”

State grants distributed between the Commonwealth’s three zoos also help; last year Lupa Zoo received $60,000, and this year it was given $46,000.

“We really hope Governor Baker doesn’t cut these funds because they help us keep the admission price low. It’s only $6 for each child in a school group as well as their chaperones, and we do everything in our power to keep it affordable because many of the students who come here are from low-income families,” she noted.

Living Legacy

Joan and her family are happy the zoo has flourished and hope it will serve the community for generations to come. It contains a playground that was added six years ago and is bordered by a beautiful raised garden; an area with fiberglass animals that children can sit on and have their photos taken; and also a concession stand, gift shop, educational center, and two large pavilions with picnic benches where people can relax and enjoy a snack in the shade.

There is also a replica of a blacksmith’s shop because Henry’s father was a blacksmith in Poland, and a small area with a miniature merry-go-round and other pint-sized rides.

But the main attraction is the animals, which is exactly what Henry hoped for, and the entire zoo is a living legacy that continues to grow.

The success of the endeavor has been astonishing, especially to Joan.

“In my wildest dreams, I never thought this would become such a popular place. The initial permitting process was difficult, but it you are determined to do something and have a good intention, you can get it done,” she said. “Henry’s dream is a reality, and we will do our best to keep it going as the patrons who come here really enjoy it.

“The chores will always be there,” she added, “but we made the right choice, and we hope the zoo will be here for many, many years to come.”

Sections Travel and Tourism
Seuss Museum Expected to Provide Boost for Quadrangle, City


Top: an artist’s rendering of one of the scenes to unfold on the first floor of the planned Dr. Seuss museum, set to open in June 2016. Above: kids visit Ted Geisel’s statue in the outdoor sculpture garden.

Top: an artist’s rendering of one of the scenes to unfold on the first floor of the planned Dr. Seuss museum, set to open in June 2016. Above: kids visit Ted Geisel’s statue in the outdoor sculpture garden.

Holly Smith-Bove says that, over the years, the bulk of the phone calls and inquiries from visitors to the Springfield Museums — maybe 80% of them by her estimate — have concerned the “Dr. Seuss Museum,” even though there isn’t one.

There is a sculpture garden featuring Seuss characters, as well as the author himself, on the museum grounds, which helps explain all those inquiries, she said. Still, many assume there is a museum attached to that hugely popular attraction. Meanwhile, there’s also an image of the Cat in the Hat on the museums’ logo, creating additional expectations.

But another huge factor is simply the strong international pull of Theodor Seuss Geisel, the most famous children’s author of all time — an estimated 600 million copies of his various works have been sold in 95 countries around the world — and knowledge of his many connections to Springfield, his birthplace, said Smith-Bove, president of Springfield Museums. And thus it is with a good deal of relief — and anticipation — that such questions will now be given a different answer.

Specifically, that the Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum will open its doors in June 2016 in the William Pynchon Memorial Building, which once housed the Connecticut Valley Historical Museum.

The new facility will be highly interactive and have a strong literacy component, said Kay Simpson, vice president of Springfield Museums, who spearheaded the Seuss museum project.

She told BusinessWest that the first floor of the Seuss museum, some 3,200 square feet of exhibition space, will house “The Amazing World of Dr. Seuss,” a permanent, bilingual exhibit deigned to introduce children and their families to the stories of Geisel, promote joy in reading, and nurture specific literacy skills.

“The exhibit is really focused on Ted Geisel growing up in downtown Springfield, and how the sights that he saw and some of the characters he encountered later appeared in his books,” said Simpson, noting that there are many connections, including Mulberry Street, just a few blocks from the Quadrangle, which was the focus of his first book, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street.

The second floor, meanwhile, which is due to open roughly a year later and is what Simpson called a “work in progress,” will house additional exhibits, including a planned re-creation of Geisel’s studio, an exhibition about the making of the sculpture garden, and other related displays.

“We’re calling it ‘Ted’s Room,’” said Smith-Bove. “It might include his writing desk — setting up his studio as if he just left it.”

The new museum is expected to generate perhaps a 25% boost in overall visitorship to the Quadrangle (currently about 400,000 annually), said Smith-Bove, adding that the attraction has strong potential to bring a number of economic benefits to the City of Homes, especially if the museum concept can be built upon in ways to include other city landmarks.

Holly Smith-Bove, left, and Kay Simpson

Holly Smith-Bove, left, and Kay Simpson say the new Dr. Seuss museum will bring many benefits, including a boost in sales of Seuss items in the gift shop.

Indeed, museum officials are already pondering such possibilities as Seuss walking or driving tours that could possibly include his childhood home on Fairfield Street (currently on the market), his alma mater, Classical High School, the site of his maternal grandparents’ bakery on Howard Street, and other sites.

They also envision packaging a Seuss experience with other facilities honoring artistic and literary figures, such as the Mark Twain Museum in Hartford, the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, and others.

For this issue and its focus on travel and tourism, BusinessWest takes an in-depth look at plans for the Seuss museum and talks with those involved about how it might prompt visitors to explore not only the worlds Geisel created, but the city that inspired so much of what he drew.

Rhyme and Reason

Simpson told BusinessWest that discussions concerning a Seuss museum began in 2002, not long after the Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden opened, and it became immediately apparent just how powerful a draw the children’s author and his famous characters were.

“It was a huge attraction the day it opened to the public, and it still is today,” said Simpson, noting that, because people don’t have to purchase admission to visit the garden, it is hard to keep an accurate account of visitorship, but she estimates at least 100,000 people a year.

From a qualitative standpoint, she said the sculpture garden has been a hit with people of all ages, and it has attracted cars bearing the license plates of nearly 50 states.

“When the kids come onto the Quad, the minute they see the sculptures, they immediately run toward them — it’s very meaningful for people,” Simpson noted, adding that, while it is mostly a spring and summer phenomenon, weather doesn’t stop many of the faithful.

“I’ve gone out onto the Quad even during the chilly autumn,” she noted, “and you’ll see someone in the middle of a rainstorm with an umbrella just reading the text from the sculpture that represents Oh, the Places You’ll Go.”

And many of those visitors, as Smith-Bove noted, want to know where the Seuss museum is.

While there has long been a desire to create one and meet that recognized need, Simpson explained, many pieces had to fall in place for such a facility to become reality.

Such pieces included physical space, a problem that was solved when the various collections in the Pynchon building were moved to the new Lyman and Merrie Wood Museum of Springfield History in 2009, freeing up that square footage. Another was gaining the blessing of Geisel’s widow, Audrey, and Dr. Seuss Enterprises, an organization that zealously promotes and protects the Seuss name and brand, while still another was funding.

In many respects, Simpson said, those challenges were woven together.

“We had a conceptual plan for the first floor of the Pynchon building, which had received approval from Dr. Seuss Enterprises, but they had a condition,” she explained. “And the condition was that we had to raise all the money that we needed to execute that conceptual plan before we started any construction or fabrication.

“It’s been like a patchwork quilt,” added Simpson of the efforts to create the museum, adding that a key stitch came from a $1 million appropriation from the state, which, when added to roughly $600,000 and other donations, including a $150,000 gift from the Institute of Library Services, gave the Museums more than the $1.5 million needed to greenlight the project and begin work.

Following an extensive RFP process that yielded responses from firms across the country, the Springfield Museums contracted with a design group comprised of 42 Design Fab, based in Indian Orchard, and 5 WITS Productions and Boston Productions Inc., both based in Norwood, to create the interactive elements for the first floor.

The new Seuss museum

The new Seuss museum will focus on the many connections between the author and Springfield, including early vehicles produced in the city.

Visitors will enter the exhibition through a large entry hall designed to simulate elements of And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street. In succeeding galleries, they’ll explore a series of environments that replicate scenes from Geisel’s imagination and encounter life-sized, three-dimensional characters and places from the books.

Character Witnesses

Overall, what’s planned for the two floors of the Pynchon Building, a Georgian Colonial Revival style structure, is a celebration of the author, his works, and his many connections to Springfield, said Simpson and Smith-Bove, adding that childhood literacy will be an important component of the facility.

That’s because one of Geisel’s primary motivations for his many children’s books was to get young people excited about reading, said Simpson.

Indeed, starting with The Cat in the Hat, published in 1957, he launched what became known as the I Can Read It All By Myself Beginner Book Series, which would also include The Cat in the Hat Comes Back, One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish, Green Eggs and Ham, Hop on Pop, and many others.

“We’re going to be a resource for the community in terms of emphasizing reading and the importance of reading,” she said of the new museum. “And our exhibits will have literacy built into them.

“For example, the interactive displays will teach kids how to rhyme and have really fun rhyming games,” she went on. “They will teach letters of the alphabet, and they provide places where families can read together — little reading nooks. There will be a focus on vocabulary with a ‘word wall.’”

As for Springfield connections, there are many, said Simpson, noting that, while the author never lived in the city following a brief return after doing graduate work at Oxford, his birthplace was always important to him, and many of its landmarks, as well as the inventions and products with which the city is most identified, can be seen in his works.

It’s all explained in a number of informational panels on the author now on display in the history museum.

One cites the stunning resemblance between the towers in the armory building on Howard Street (set to become part of the MGM casino complex) that sat across the street from his maternal grandparents’ German bakery, and a tower in The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins.

Another panel speculates on how the Knox automobiles and Indian motorcycles manufactured in the city early in the 20th century may have influenced vehicles presented in his books, while another cites how his paternal grandfather’s brewery, the Kalmbach & Geisel Brewery, may have inspired some of his drawings. And still another informs readers of how the animals in the Forest Park Zoo — which Geisel’s father served as superintendent after Prohibition torpedoed the family brewery — inspired the many creatures in his books.

“Ted grew up on Fairfield Street, which was not far from Forest Park; he used to go over to the park as a boy, and he always had his sketchbook with him,” said Simpson. “He would go to the zoo, and he would draw all those animals — he would spend hours doing that — and it’s believed that seeing all those animals inspired him to create all those crazy creatures you see in his books.”

These myriad connections help explain why the Seuss family and Dr. Seuss Enterprises determined that, if there was to be a museum devoted to the children’s author, it should be in Springfield, said Smith-Bove, adding that it will be the only facility of its kind dedicated to his life and work in the world.

And while it will be launched in the Pychon building, there are expectations that it may be expanded down the road, said Smith-Bove, adding that, in the meantime, the other facilities in the Springfield Museums could be utilized to provide a broader Seuss experience.

“We have five museums on our campus that can hold thousands of people,” she explained. “It’s up to us to make sure that we program each of the other buildings. In the art museum, we can have Seuss’s artwork; in the history, we can talk about his life; for the science museum, there’s the Lorax … there are many possibilities.”

These extend well beyond the Quadrangle itself, said Simpson, adding that Springfield Museums and city officials should work together to use those connections between Geisel and his hometown to bring more attention — and visitors — to the museums and the city as a whole.

“Ted really knew downtown Springfield — he went to Classical, he used the main branch of the city library [on State Street], and some of his books actually to refer to what was then called the municipal auditorium, Symphony Hall,” she explained. “So we were thinking that we could do a walking tour, which goes to the idea of cultural tourism.

“We’d be making connections between the museums and other sites in downtown Springfield,” she went on, “and would really get tourists walking around the city.”

When asked about the projected impact on the Quadrangle from the new museum, Smith-Bove and Simpson again flashed back to when the sculpture garden opened. The first few years it was open, it was a huge draw, they said, adding that visitorship to the museums grew by roughly 25% over that time.

A similar increase is expected from the new facility, along with a corresponding increase in the museums’ overall economic impact on the city, currently pegged at roughly $28 million.

And for the Springfield Museums themselves, in addition to the surge in visitorship, there is an expected trickle-down to facilities like the gift shop, where sales of Seuss-related items — from books to Cat in the Hat hats to plush toys — account for more than 25% of total revenues.

Chapter and Verse

The health and vitality of both the Seuss name and brand is evidenced by the coverage given the news of the planned Seuss museum, said Matt Longhi, the museums’ director of marketing and public relations, who tracks such things.

He said stories or notes have appeared in the Boston Globe, the New York Daily News, Time, Entertainment Weekly, and even the South African Art Times and Al Jazeera’s New York bureau.

More significant than the press is the manner in which the Seuss brand continues to grow — in scope and also in terms of revenue, said Simpson, adding that the Seuss name, and the books, have enormous staying power.

“Other book series just seem to fade out over time,” she explained. “But he just keeps getting more popular.”

In addition to staying power, it is expected that the celebrated author will have drawing power — in a figurative sense — which will bode well for the museums at the Quadrangle, the city itself, and all those who want to celebrate the life of Springfield’s most famous resident.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Sections Travel and Tourism
Berkshire East Positions Itself as Outdoor Adventure Center

Berkshire East’s new mountain coaster

Berkshire East’s new mountain coaster opened last October and has earned the distinction of being the longest alpine mountain coaster in North America.

In the fall of 1976, Roy Schaefer drove his family from Michigan to Charlemont to look at Thunder Mountain Ski Resort, which was about to go bankrupt.

Although it was failing, Schaefer was optimistic that he could bring it back to life, and he and a partner purchased it from Greenfield Savings Bank for $1, plus a debt of several hundred thousand dollars.

Schaefer renamed the resort Berkshire East, and although his hard work and dedication paid off, he dedicated only the fall and winter months to the operation.

“My father and his partner operated a ferryboat company in the summer on Mackinaw Island in Michigan, and when the ski area ended, all of their energy shifted there,” said Roy’s son, Jonathan Schafer, who co-owns Berkshire East Mountain Resort with his family.

However, Roy and his partner kept the area alive, and it became a place where generations of families learned to ski. But, because it was a seasonal operation dependent on weather, he battled Mother Nature for decades. However, his commitment and belief that outdoor recreation is a sustainable model for economic growth not only helped area businesses and provided seasonal employment, but was passed on to his four children.

Today, the resort is undergoing a $5 million transformation and is ushering in a bevy of recreational activities designed to transform it into a year-round destination that offers not only alpine skiing, but snow tubing, ziplining, mountain biking, whitewater rafting, and the opportunity to ride North America’s longest mountain coaster.

The family also added overnight accommodations to the resort last September by purchasing the nearby, 530-acre Warfield House Inn and Farm, a bed and breakfast located just over a mile from Berkshire East that operates as a working farm complete with llamas, cattle, chickens, and gardens.

Jonathan has worked alongside his father for years, and says he and his brothers developed their own vision for expanding the family ski resort into a year-round retreat years ago.

“We were all ski racers who traveled the world, and due to our racing, we got to see a lot of things: bungee jumping in New Zealand, mountain biking, and other amazing activities,” he said. “We knew that we wanted to bring them to Charlemont and also realized that the Berkshires compare to any mountain range anywhere.

“We never had a written master plan, but we knew where we wanted to go with the resort due to our shared experience,” he went on, “and our goal now is to become the number-one family, four-season resort in Southern New England.”

The vision morphed into reality in 2008, when Jonathan’s brother, James, who lives in New York City, bought out his father’s business partner in Michigan.

Change began almost immediately, and in 2009, Berkshire East installed its first new recreational venue, Zipline Canopy Tours, that would change its status from a winter resort into one that offered year-round activities.

For this issue and its focus on travel and tourism, BusinessWest looks at the many changes and additions at Berkshire East, and how the resort is now at the top of its game — in more ways than one.

Reaching New Heights

The expanded venue has been a success, and people can choose three different zipline options that begin with a ride up the mountain on a chair lift that offers panoramic views of the Deerfield Valley. The descent is exciting, moving from platform to platform through mountainous terrain, and Zipline Canopy Tours was named by USA Today as one of the top 10 ziplines in the nation.

“The tours are guided and were built to fit in with the landscape. It’s a great adventure that lasts two to two and a half hours,” Jonathan said.

The Schaefer family has always strived to be in tune with nature, and in 2011 they installed a wind turbine, followed by a 10-acre solar field in 2012.

“We were the first ski area to produce all of our own electricity, and we remain the only ski area in the world to produce renewable energy on site,” Jonathan told BusinessWest.

Berkshire Whitewater

Berkshire Whitewater will begin offering rafting trips in May, with a variety of excursions designed for people of different ages and abilities.

The wind turbine powers the pumps that transform water into snow, and from 2009 to 2013, Berkshire East made dramatic upgrades to its snowmaking operation. “We also added a mountaintop pond, which allowed us to double our snow guns and open earlier each season,” Jonathan said, adding that the resort contains 160 skiable acres. “We opened the last weekend in November, and this year is our longest season ever.”

Another new attraction has increased business and added to the operation’s year-round status. It’s a 5,400-foot, all-season mountain coaster that opened last October on Columbus Day weekend.

“It was built as a diversification against the weather; ski weekends can be wiped out due to cold and snow, so we needed a way to drive business and give people a great experience,” said Jonathan. “The things we have done allow us to be open 365 days a year, and we built a 12,000-square-foot addition onto our lodge last year. It’s beautiful, as it’s made from hand cut timber.”

He noted that the lodge has two floors, two restaurants, and a bar, and has been a tremendous boost to the property. “Many couples book their weddings here, and now their guests will be able to enjoy the activities we offer year-round.”

The mountain coaster is one of them, and it’s a noteworthy attraction. “It is the longest mountain coaster in the nation and the third-longest in the world. It’s powered by our wind turbine and solar panels, and is an inviting way for people to enjoy the outdoors, as there are no fitness or skill requirements,” Jonathan said.

The coaster’s construction proved to be an extraordinary engineering feat, because each section had to be designed to adapt to the contour of the mountain with minimal impact to the landscape. The sections were installed in 10-foot lengths, and each car is towed up the mountain by a stainless-steel cable and strategically released when it reaches the top.

“Each car is independent of the others and has its own braking system, which allows people to slow down or speed up by pulling on the handles,” Jonathan said. “However, if one car gets within 80 feet of another going down the mountain, the brakes automatically stop it.

“The track twists and turns down a mountainside of cliffs and trees, so it’s a wild ride on a dynamic hillside,” he added. “Anticipation builds in riders who are going up, as they can see others coming down because the course crosses uphill four times.”

The new attraction has attracted coaster enthusiasts from across the nation, and groups have already booked trips there this summer.

Growing Venues

Berkshire East enjoyed a cooperative partnership with Moxie Outdoor Adventures for years, and recently acquired its Deerfield River rafting operation. It has been renamed Berkshire Whitewater, and although it kept most of Moxie’s river guides, Berkshire East purchased 10 new rafts designed exclusively for the river, along with other state-of-the art equipment.

“We have 60 spots on the river, plan to open in May, and will continue the rafting trips until it gets too cold to run them in the fall,” said Jonathan. “We can’t add 1,000 vertical feet to the ski area, so we are adding world-class activities to show off what a beautiful spot we have here.”

Trips will be available five days a week and will begin when the hydroelectric Bear Swamp Generating Station releases water, which is done on a regular, scheduled basis. Since it stores approximately 1.7 billion gallons of water almost 800 feet above the river, when it is released, it turns the river into an ideal spot for rafters, kayakers, and downriver canoeists.

A variety of adventures along different sections of the river are planned for different age groups and abilities, but all rafters will receive a 20-minute safety lecture before they leave. A picnic lunch is provided for people who opt for one of the easier excursions, while another, more advanced course ends with a barbecue.

Each trip lasts four or five hours, and there are options to satisfy everyone, including a leisurely, half-day float trip that families with children ages 5 and up can enjoy.

“They float along in a whitewater raft, and there are places for them to get out, splash around, and swim,” Jonathan noted.

In addition, guided kayaking trips will be offered daily, and children ages 5 and up can accompany an adult in a boat on the four-hour adventures.

Since some people have already rafted on the Deerfield River, Jonathan said, Berkshire Whitewater is offering trips on the Millers River, east of Greenfield, and the West River in Jamaica, Vermont. “But they all start here, and people are taken to those sites in vans,” he told BusinessWest.

skiing remains a major part of Berkshire East

Despite the resort’s all-season changes, skiing remains a major part of Berkshire East’s roster of offerings.

The Schaefer family is also building a new mountain-biking park and commissioned a group from Whistler Mountain, whose track record includes building the largest and most dynamic bike trail in the world, to construct 10 miles of trails down the mountain. “We plan to open the park in early July and will have a major focus on beginners, with a learn-to-ride program,” Jonathan said.

Meanwhile, because the Schaefers know that many people want to enjoy their resort for more than a day, the purchase of the mountaintop complex that contains the Warfield House Inn will allow them to offer overnight lodging.

“It was a logical move because there was no housing at the ski area and this was a beautiful facility that needed new life. We thought it would be a great complement to our business,” he said.

The bed and breakfast, which was recently renovated, contains a meeting facility, restaurant, and pavilion with mountaintop views. “It’s a gorgeous place to get married,” Jonathan said, adding that the farm is also known for its maple-sugaring operation, producing about 1,000 gallons of the sweet treat each year.

Endless Possibilities

Over the past few years, Berkshire East also installed a new Sky Trac Quad chair lift, with the help of a helicopter and an army of loyal employees, that can deliver 2,400 people an hour to the top of the mountain to ski, mountain bike, hike, and enjoy other outdoor activities.

“For many years, we were just a ski area, and we have continued to expand the skiing and offer a lot of learn-to-ski programs for children,” Jonathan said. “But it’s a sport that takes skill. There is a learning curve, and it requires equipment, so we wanted to add other year-round activities that would give families the experience of a lifetime.”

He added that his brother Bill, who lives in Iowa, is part-owner of the whitewater-rafting business and has purchased rental properties in the area; his brother Tom, who lives in California, has also purchased rental properties; and he, his brother James, and their father run the day-to-day operation of the resort and remain committed to providing healthy, recreational outdoor activities.

Today, the family is excited about the expansion, and their goal is for Berkshire East to become known as “New England’s Outdoor Adventure Center,” Jonathan said.

“We think it is possible,” he noted, “because we have added attractions that will drive business and give people a great experience here 365 days a year.”

Features Sections Travel and Tourism

Clark Art Institute Reopens After Major Renovation

The Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown celebrated the grand reopening of its 140-acre campus on July 4. It has been transformed by a $145 million renovation designed to give visitors a more coherent and expanded view of art and nature.

“It’s a whole new Clark; we have recast the public profile of the institution,” said Thomas Loughman, associate director for programs and planning. “We have maintained the beautiful, intimate experience we are known for, but created a better way to experience it so visitors can connect with the great pinnacle of human creation, which is art.”

Reflecting pools greet visitors to the Clark.

Reflecting pools greet visitors to the Clark.

The changes, which include new architecture and the newly built Clark Center, the main entryway into the campus, are breathtaking and have attracted rave reviews. The building was designed by Pulitzer Prize-winning architect Tadeo Ando to direct people’s views as they enter through walls of glass and three-tiered reflecting pools outside, where trees and hillsides are mirrored in water that comes right to the edge of the glass. In addition to their aesthetic value, the pools are advanced water-management systems that will reduce the Clark’s potable water use by 1 million gallons a year.

“Ando is truly dedicated to the idea that great architecture needs to be in harmony with the landscape, and the reason the Clark Center has so much glass is because it was meant to bring the outside in,” Loughman said.

“The glass was installed to create a connection, historically and visually, with views to the left and right,” he continued, as he sat in a room backed by glass that looked out onto another pool of water. “The materials used in this building frame one’s view of the landscape, whether it is man-made and orderly or partially wild, with gradations in between.”

New ways to circulate between the buildings have also been created, which include a bridge outside and a hallway between the Clark Center and the museum. It has glass on one side, which changes as people travel along it, redirecting their view from a lily pond on the left to the reflecting pools on the right. Exhibit space has also been increased within the museum building itself, which had been closed for three years before the grand reopening last month.

Sally Majewski, manager of public relations and marketing, said reaction to the transformation has been overwhelmingly positive. “We’ve had an incredible response to what has been done, which has been very gratifying.”

She added that, when the museum building closed for the renovation, 75 French paintings from the Clark’s collection were sent on a three-year international tour in 11 cities. “They returned just in time to be reinstalled before we reopened,” Majewski told BusinessWest, noting that the international tour drew more than 2.6 million visitors.

In addition to the Clark Center and renovated museum building, other changes have been made, and the entire campus has become so inviting that locals can be seen walking their dogs along miles of pathways in the verdant landscape and pausing to sit beside the reflecting pools, while people from all over the world view art, study, and conduct research inside the buildings.

Ambitious Plan

Loughman said the expansion plans were first conceived in the late ’90s, when it became clear that the facilities at the Clark were too limited for their program, but they had ample room to grow.

Thomas Loughman says the design of the Clark and its surroundings help visitors make the connection between the beauty of nature and art.

Thomas Loughman says the design of the Clark and its surroundings help visitors make the connection between the beauty of nature and art.

“The population of the town is only 5,000, but we have a very big impact on the region and on the global mission of portraying the history of art,” he said. “The fellows who do research here come from all over the world, and we have exchange relationships with museums around the world in terms of lending and borrowing. And although we had 140 acres, we were hunkered down in two old buildings. So we commissioned Cooper Robertson and Partners in New York City to create a master plan. They told us we needed to change the circulation of the campus, which included moving the parking to one spot, and responsibly crossing two brooks via a bridge to allow access to the rest of the campus.”

In 2002, an architectural competition was launched, and Ando was chosen to design two new buildings. The first — the 42,600-square-foot Clark Center — includes more than 11,000 square feet of gallery space for special exhibitions, a multi-purpose pavilion for events, a dining area, a museum store, family spaces, and an all-glass museum pavilion that creates a new entrance to the original museum building.

The second new structure is the Lunder Center at Stone Hill, which houses smaller exhibits and contains a new art classroom, a seasonal café on a terrace that offers a sweeping view of the landscape, and the Williamstown Art Conservation Center’s facilities.

Phase 1 was completed in 2008 and included the Lunder Center, a new bridge, and a free shuttle service provided between that building and the main campus. Phase 2 involved the construction of the Clark Center with its reflecting pools, site work to the parking lot, and renovations to the museum building and Manton Research Center.

Consideration was also given to the environment, and the terraced reflecting pools that cover an acre were part of Ando’s master plan. They unite the museum’s campus by providing a peaceful view from inside and outside of Stone Hill Meadow, Christmas Brook, and its wetlands.

But they are functional as well and have helped position the Clark at the forefront of the museum world as a leader in sustainability and energy conservation.

Loughman said all the rainwater from the roofs and terraces is channeled into the pools and used to flush the toilets. “It’s a huge advance to have our stormwater-management system and gray-water system tied together in a sustainable fashion,” he told BusinessWest, as he gazed at the sheet of water, which is about 12 inches deep and has a bottom composed of Berkshire river rock and fieldstone.

Funding for the project came entirely from donations, with the exception of $1 million from the Massachusetts Cultural Facilities Fund, and financial vehicles were created to keep it moving forward. “People care deeply about our mission, which is to bridge the distance that separates the general public from what is happening in art history,” Loughman said. “We try to connect our guests with ideas and objects, and our new facilities let us do this better.”

Unification Efforts

Each of the four buildings on the campus has a distinct character. “The museum, which was built in the ’50s, is clad in white marble and looks like a Greek temple or mausoleum, while the Manton Research Center, designed in the ’60s, is clad in purple granite and built in New Brutalist style,” said Loughman, pointing out some of the differences.

But today, thanks to Tadeo Ando Architect and Associates, Selldorf Architects, and Reed Hilderbrand and Gensler, materials used in the Clark Center mirror those used in the museum and Manton Center.
The museum’s interior has also undergone change. The building gained 15% more exhibit space, which equates to about 2,200 square feet. That was made possible by moving the loading docks, mailroom, and other service spaces. “It allows us to put a substantially greater number of works on view, many of which were held in storage,” Loughman said.

New lighting and environmental controls were also installed, and three small galleries were created to showcase silver and porcelain as guests move west to east throughout the building. “In the past, we had very primitive displays, but the new cases give us so much more space,” he continued. “There is also a purpose-built gallery for American paintings in the former mailroom that allows us to show off our great collection of Winslow Homer and George Inness. We originally had two of Inness’ works in our collection, but two years ago, we were given eight more of them. Now, we have a place to display them.”

Other changes made to the museum building included raising and reconfiguring the height of the academic gallery to mirror the Impressionist artwork on display there. In addition, new walls were erected to create small showcases within the larger gallery, and the color in some areas was changed to create a more spacious feel.

A new small room with special lighting allows the museum to showcase pastels, and is one of three areas carved out to spotlight select pieces of art. “Ando and the curators tried to create moments of surprise by creating them so they could highlight a small number of works,” Majewski said.

There has also been a change, which began seven years ago, in the type of work put on display. “We wanted to challenge ourselves to show things beyond what people expect to see at the Clark,” Loughman said.
In the past, that was a collection of great 19th-century French and American paintings. But today, the Clark has exhibitions of 20th- and 21st-century art as well as non-Western art and antiquity.

“What we’ve done on these fronts seems very provocative, but we have created immersive experiences that include contemporary art,” Loughman noted, referring to a number of exhibitions, including “Circles of Influence,” which showcases the work of the abstract expressionist Georgia O’Keefe and the modernist Arthur Dove.

Today, a show called “Unearthed: Recent Archaeological Discoveries from Northern China” is on display in the new Clark Center, while an exhibit titled “Raw Color: The Circles of David Smith” can be seen in the Lunden Center.

The multi-million-dollar, multi-phase project that began 15 years ago is almost complete, and a video presentation near the new entrance to the museum building documents the undertaking. Although it has taken time, the end result is a seamless experience, due to the work of four internationally renowned architects who added more than 13,000 square feet of gallery space, demolished the former physical plant building to make way for the new Clark Center and its three reflecting pools, upgraded major utilities, added a series of new geothermal wells, planted 1,000 new trees, and created new ways to circulate among the four buildings on the campus.

Unified Atmosphere

Other changes include upgrades and expansion of the walking trails, a new entry drive, and parking areas with water-permeable surfaces that lead to the rainwater-collection system.

A renovation of the Manton Research Center will complete the project. “The lobby will be turned into a public reading room. It’s one of the greatest art-history libraries in the world, but it has been behind doors, so it is critical to bring it out,” Loughman said.

Although this is important, he added, what has been already accomplished is extraordinary.

“The transformation allowed us to leap over something very old and non-functional and become something that is a generation ahead of our peers in terms of design and sustainability,” he said. “It was difficult to do everything at once, but our project was driven by unity and the historic connection to the earth, which is really art.”

Sections Travel and Tourism

The Big E Continues to Be an Economic Engine

Eastern States Exposition CEO Gene Cassidy and the man who inspires his work, fair founder Joshua Brooks.

Eastern States Exposition CEO Gene Cassidy and the man who inspires his work, fair founder Joshua Brooks.

Joshua L. Brooks was a man who got things done. And Gene Cassidy, CEO of the Eastern States Exposition, doesn’t let anyone forget it, hanging a large portrait of Brooks, the fair’s founder, at the front of the conference room where he meets with his staff.

“Mr. Brooks was concerned about agriculture,” Cassidy told BusinessWest. “He was an industrialist, but he saw that agriculture was losing ground in New England at the turn of the last century, with so much agriculture being produced out of the Midwest and South Central estates. So he established the Eastern States Agricultural and Industrial Exposition.”

Specifically, he got the National Dairy Show to move its annual event from Chicago to West Springfield in 1916, but only after he transformed a bare plot of land into a property where the expo could be staged.
“There’s a great story of how he capitalized the fairgrounds and got people to donate incredible sums of money,” said Cassidy, citing, as an example, the night of Feb. 1, 1914, when a major blizzard hit the Pioneer Valley. A fund-raiser was scheduled for that night, and Noyes Fisk, owner of Fisk Tire Co. in Chicopee — which later became Uniroyal — was given the responsibility of raising $750,000. “Even in that blizzard, with limited attendance, he was able to raise $450,000. That was the initial capital providing resources to build these facilities, including A Barn, B Barn, and C Barn.”

All three of those barns, including several other structures built in the early years of the fair, still stand today, while the fairgrounds has added many others over the years. More importantly, however, the fair — its name eventually shortened to the Eastern States Exposition and known colloquially as the Big E — has built a nearly century-old legacy that’s measured by more than its impressive regional economic impact (more on that later).

“The impact of Eastern States is dramatic, and it’s important to the region,” said Cassidy, who joined the Big E 20 years ago as chief financial officer and took the reins from longtime CEO Wayne McCary. Cassidy’s first two fairs as CEO set records for attendance, but he has been equally successful with another mission: bringing the expo’s history to life, partly by decorating the expo’s offices with dozens of posters, documents, and artifacts from the past 98 years, including more than one celebrating the work of the man he respectfully calls Mr. Brooks.

“Since I became CEO, my goal has been to reconnect and resurrect, if you will, the spirit of our founder, Mr. Brooks,” Cassidy said. “This building was pretty sterile before, but I think the history is important, and it’s important for all of us who work here to be reacquainted with why we’re here — and what, really, is the purpose of the Eastern States Exposition.”

As the 99th edition of the Big E gets set to roll out in two weeks, Cassidy sat down with BusinessWest to answer that question in a number of ways.

Animal Attraction

Although the words ‘agricultural’ and ‘industrial’ are no longer in the fair’s name, Cassidy said, it would be a mistake to underestimate their importance to what the Big E is all about.

“Yes, entertainment drives people’s interest, and we make a big deal about food; that drives people’s interest as well. And certainly the midway is an attraction, so making sure we have a good, clean, safe, attractive midway is key,” he explained. “Behind the scenes, though, we’re engaged in producing an event that serves the agricultural industry and the commodities industry for all of New England. Those are less exciting things for some people, but we get very excited about them.”

He said the fair has become known over the decades as a prime showcase for what he called the “bovine, equine, and swine” categories of livestock shows, as well as for produce and other food products. “If you win a blue ribbon at the Eastern States Exposition, whether it’s for cheese or cattle or goats, whatever it is, that gives you national cachet, national attention. Most fairgoers aren’t cognizant of that, but it’s very important for both the agriculture and industry that drives a large part of the New England economy.”

The fair has always educated people about livestock and agriculture, and Cassidy feels that mission is more important than ever, with so many Americans, particularly of the younger generations, unaware of what goes into putting their food on the table.

“So much time has passed from 1916 to today, and people are so distant from production agriculture. In many cases, animals [at the show] are viewed as if they’re domestic pets and not domestic food products. Youth today have no connection, no understanding of where their food actually comes from,” he said, adding that this disconnect isn’t limited to the agricultural side, and he’d like to see more fair offerings that teach people about food processing as well.

In addition, “it’s a continuing battle with animal-rights organizations,” Cassidy noted. “We get blowback from rogue groups that raise money on the Internet, anonymously, and they influence our programs in a way that’s detrimental to the general public.”

For example, “my office is two miles from the house where I was born and raised,” he continued. “When I was a kid, the Eastern States Exposition had a carcass exhibit, and a butcher butchering beef cattle and explaining the different cuts of beef. People would be mesmerized, and would learn where the loin comes from, the shoulder, and so on. In this day and age in New England, you could never have an exhibition like that, and it’s sad.”

Just like today, fairgoers have long been able to peruse and buy the latest products at the Big E.

Just like today, fairgoers have long been able to peruse and buy the latest products at the Big E.

While maintaining as much of the expo’s agricultural focus as possible, Cassidy said he would like to strengthen the connections the fair has to other notable industries, such as machine tools, using the fair as a platform to grow those businesses and generate jobs as well. He also believes promotion of consumer products still has a place.

“Companies used to use fairs as a means of promoting their new products,” he noted. “With the advent of television, fairs became less attractive for, say, Westinghouse or General Electric to launch their latest washing machine or other product. But we’re working very hard here to create opportunities for companies to re-engage people on the one-to-one level.”

This year’s fair will showcase the Ford Mustang, which made its debut at the New York World’s Fair 50 years ago. The Big E will display one of the Mustangs that was actually on display in New York in 1964, and Sarat Ford has produred a few rare special-edition Mustangs to display as well. “In many ways, we’re celebrating the World’s Fair,” Cassidy said. “It’s a throwback feature, which I’m really excited about.”

Eat, Listen, Love

Cassidy told BusinessWest that he fully understands the fair’s appeal to tradition and nostalgia that repeat visitors enjoy — everything from the livestock shows to the parades and circuses to the state buildings, where the six New England states promote their most popular foods, crafts, and other products. The challenge, of course, is maintaining those traditions while keeping the fair fresh.

Entertainment is a large part of that, and the Big E has long offered free concerts to visitors — this year’s extensive lineup features up-and-comers like The Voice winner Cassadee Pope and veterans like Eddie Money — while mixing in a few bigger-name shows that require an extra admission fee, including Darius Rucker, Little Big Town, and ZZ Top.

“I’ve been trying to get ZZ Top for 10, maybe 15 years, and I finally got them, so I’m very excited,” Cassidy said, adding that financial changes in the entertainment-booking world have made charging for some acts necessary.

“You’ve got to have good entertainment — that’s the thing that puts the buzz in the air. But that’s extremely difficult to do, and every year, it’s harder and harder. When I started here in 1994, we could book the biggest acts in Las Vegas for $40,000 or $50,000, and they would do two shows a day. Now, in the current age, we can’t afford these acts,” he said, noting that booking Reba McEntire in 2011 cost $335,000. “So we’ve been forced to charge now for the biggest acts, and we do our best to find solid acts we can give away.”

He credited John Juliano, the long-time special-events director for the Big E, with always being able to book talent on the rise, from Beyoncé before Destiny’s Child was popular to Hunter Hayes last year to Pope next month.

Still, for many fairgoers, music isn’t the number-one attraction; they’re more interested in finding out how many foods can be successfully deep-fried.

“Talent is such an important way of keeping people interested, but the other way is gastronomically,” Cassidy said of the Big E’s extensive selection of fair food. “I love cheese curds, and this is the only place in the world I get cheese curds. But we also have to continually discover new products and find means by which to bring new products to the fairgoing public.”

After all, the vitality and continuing popularity of the Big E has a direct economic impact on the region. According to a report the Eastern States Exposition produced this year, the 17-day Big E, plus all the other events that take place on the fairgrounds each year — which feature exhibitions for animal lovers, car enthusiasts, gun owners, campers, and dozens of other groups — benefit the region with an annual economic impact of $479 million.

The tax revenues alone include $3 million in income tax, $1.4 million in sales tax, $427,000 in hotel tax, and $3.3 million in food and beverage tax. More significantly, events generate $299 million in gross regional product and account for 3,000 jobs in Hampden County that generate $91.9 million in personal income. The exposition’s impact on the rest of New England and New York include 2,000 jobs generating $134 million in personal income. In all, 2.5 million visitors stop by the fairgrounds each year, well over 1 million for the Big E alone.

“We need all the stakeholders — which include the fair patrons, business leaders from throughout the region, and our own board of trustees — to be able to draw a direct link toward the Eastern States as a mechanism to drive the economy and jobs,” Cassidy said. “The fair has a broad impact on agriculture worldwide, but has its most important role in this region. It plays a very important role in generating business on a grand scale, and that ripples throughout the economy at many different levels.”

Into the Next Century

At one point, Cassidy pulled out an old, worn book filled with stock certificates that Brooks sold to some of Greater Springfield’s most notable citizens in the fair’s early days — then later bought back so that no individual or group could set the event’s agenda.

To continue Brooks’ legacy for the next 100 years, Cassidy knows that the fairgrounds need some attention, starting with those century-old buildings. Renovating the large B Barn, otherwise known as the Coliseum, is a $60 million endeavor, and that’s just one structure. Last year, the fair generated about $5 million in profit — a success, of course, but not the kind of revenue flow needed to sustain multiple improvement projects.

“We need to continue to grow, not just because we’re a 100-year-old facility with a great deal of deferred maintenance, but to re-educate the fair-going public,” he said. “I think we’re the most successful fair in the country; we’re recognized nationally as a best-practices organization. We’re one of the largest fairs, and the largest fair that’s not state-subsidized, which is really remarkable. But we need to put a lot of attention into this 100-year-old plant.”

To do that, Cassidy says it’s crucial to generate regional philanthropy, like Brooks did when he reached out to his wealthy friends to launch the exposition in 1916. “We’re a 501(c)(3) public charity, and financially, we’re a very stable organization, but we need to reinvigorate our stakeholders — not just to sustain ourselves, but we owe it to the region to grow, so the region grows.”

As board treasurer of the Regional Employment Board of Western Mass., Cassidy is keenly aware of the region’s need to retain talent to grow a number of its industries, and he feels like the Big E and its myriad activities can play a role in that, if only by improving quality of life in the Pioneer Valley.

“We have access to the best education in the world, and we’re exporting our graduates. Any company executive who scoffs at that is not being responsible in their duty to grow the economy and make their mark on the general citizenry,” he told BusinessWest. “It’s all about quality of life. My hope is that the Eastern States Exposition adds to quality of life for people in West Springfield and all of Greater Springfield.”

It’s an easy thing to get excited about, Cassidy added. “People pay to get in, and they’re predisposed to happiness. There are very few jobs in the world where the person coming through the gate is coming in to have a good time. You go to the grocery store because you have to, or go to the tire store because you need tires. You don’t have to come to the Big E.

“Our job,” he concluded, “is to deliver a product that makes you want to be here. If we can take our presence here and use it as a multiplier to drive industry in the local economy, we’ve succeeded.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Sections Travel and Tourism
Mark Your Calendar with These 20 Happenings


In the mood for some music or theater? Enjoy art or antiques? Feel like trying out some different kinds of food?
The Pioneer Valley offers myriad opportunities to enjoy the summer, so if you’re feeling stir-crazy — or the kids say they’re bored — check out these 20 summer destinations, which only scratch the surface of what’s available in Western Mass. Whether you’re into baseball or fireworks, concerts or dogs, you’re sure to find plenty to do.

Taste of Amherst
Town Common, Amherst
Admission: Free
June 19-22: Kick off the summer by eating your fill during the four days of the 2014 Taste of Amherst. In addition to food offerings from about 20 town restaurants — most for $5 or under — the event will feature live entertainment by the River, 93.9 FM, as well as fun family events. The Taste runs from 5 to 9 p.m. Thursday, 5 to 10 p.m. Friday, noon to 10 p.m. Saturday, and noon to 4 p.m. Sunday, and is presented by Atkins Farms Country Market, with sponsorship by the Amherst Business Improvement District, Amherst College, Hampshire College, and UMass Amherst.

Stearns Square Concert Series
Worthington and Bridge streets, Springfield
(413) 781-1591; www.facebook.com/stearnssquare
Admission: Free
Starting June 26: Thursday evenings heat up in downtown Springfield for another season of concerts in Stearns Square, starting with a visit from Black 47 on June 26, this summer’s kickoff concert. And the bands — from notable local lights to internationally acclaimed acts — just keep coming, including FAT (July 3), the Spin Doctors (July 10), Roomful of Blues (July 17), Diamondback (July 24), Truckstop Troubadors (July 31), Maggie Rose (Aug. 7), John Eddie (Aug. 14), Doug Demings and the Jewel Tones (Aug. 21), and the Smithereens (Aug. 28). All concerts begin at 8 p.m., and there are no opening acts this year. What began 14 years ago as a way to liven up downtown Springfield — it was originally held in the Court Square area — has become a weekly destination for music lovers, people watchers, and scores of motorcyclists. The series is sponsored by the Springfield Business Improvement District.

Williamstown Theatre Festival
1000 Main St., Williamstown
(413) 597-3400; www.wtfestival.org
Admission: $15 and up
July 2 to Aug. 17: Sixty years ago, the leaders of the Williams College drama department and news office conceived of an idea: using the school’s theater for a summer performance program with a resident company. Since then, the festival has attracted such performers as E.G. Marshall, Blythe Danner, Colleen Dewhurst, and Christopher Reeve. This summer, the program will present a range of both classical and original productions, plus other programs like the interactive workshops, post-show Tuesday Talkbacks with company members, and ‘A Festival 4th,’ when actors will celebrate the Fourth of July by gathering at the Williams College Museum of Art to read the Declaration of Independence and the British reply before viewing the college’s noted Founding Documents collection. Williamstown’s classic small-town parade then kicks off on Spring Street at 11 a.m. and ends at the Clark Art Institute for the grand opening of its newly expanded campus.

Clark-ArtClark Art Institute
225 South St., Williamstown
(413) 458-2303; www.clarkart.edu
Admission: Free on July 4; otherwise $20 for adults, free for under 18 and students
Starting July 4: Immediately following the Williamstown parade, enjoy hot dogs, live music, balloons, and other family fun on the museum’s East Lawn before the Clark — which has been closed for an extensive renovation — officially reopens at 1 p.m. Admission is free on grand-opening day. Galleries will be open until 9 p.m., and the Eagles Band will perform at 7 p.m., followed by fireworks at 9. Founded in 1936, the Eagles Band is the oldest continuing performance ensemble in the Berkshires, performing music from the late ’30s through the early ’50s, in styles ranging from traditional brass to contemporary and pop arrangements. Guests are welcome to return throughout the summer (admission $20, students and under 18 free), with new exhibitions including “Make It New: Abstract Paintings from the National Gallery of Art,” which will include Jackson Pollock’s “Lavender Mist,” opening Aug. 2. Perhaps the most impressive work of all is the Clark’s new, 42,650-square-foot Visitor Center — designed by the Pritzker Prize-winning architect Ando, who is known for incorporating landscape into his design. The center boasts new dining facilities, a museum shop, outdoor terraces, and 11,070 square feet of additional special exhibition space. And if you can’t make it to Williamstown on July 4, there’s always…

Monson Summerfest

Main Street, Monson
(413) 267-3649; www.monsonsummerfestinc.com
Admission: Free
July 4: In 1979, a group of parishioners from the town’s Methodist church wanted to start an Independence Day celebration focused on family and community, The first Summerfest was held at the church, featuring food, games, and fun activities. With the overwhelming interest of nonprofit organizations in town, the event immediately grew, and relocated onto Main Street the following year. With the addition of a parade, along with booths, bands, rides, and activities, the event has evolved into an attraction drawing more than 10,000 people every year. The festivities will be preceded this year by a town fireworks display on June 28.

Star-Spangled-SpfldStar Spangled Springfield
Downtown Springfield
(413) 733-3800
Admission: Free
July 4: Speaking of fireworks, what’s a better end to an Independence Day filled with food, family, and outdoor fun than taking in a spectacle of the skies? Springfield’s annual show, starting at 9:30 p.m., is a welcome tradition, but it’s hardly the only one. For example, South Hadley and East Longmeadow have slated their displays for July 3, Old Sturbridge Village will light up the night on July 4, and Westfield and Greenfield have events scheduled for July 5. Many other cities and towns are planning fireworks as well; check with municipal offices for times.

Berkshires Arts Festival
Ski Butternut, 380 State Road, Great Barrington
(845) 355-2400; www.berkshiresartsfestival.com
Admission: $5-$13
July 4-6: Now in its 13th year, the Berkshires Arts Festival has become a regional tradition. Thousands of art lovers and collectors are expected to descend on the Ski Butternut grounds to check out and purchase the creations of more than 175 artists and designers, as well as experiencing theater, music, and dance from local, national, and international acts. Founded by Richard and Joanna Rothbard, owners of An American Craftsman Galleries, the festival attracts top artists from across the U.S. and Canada. Visitors can also participate in interactive events like puppetry and storytelling, all the time enjoying a respite from the sun under tents and in the ski resort’s air-conditioned lodge.

297 West St., Lenox
(617) 266-1200; www.bso.org
Admission: $21 and up
Starting July 5: Tanglewood has been the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra since 1937, and like previous years, it has a well-stocked slate of concerts in store for the 2014 season, including an All-American Opening Night Gala Concert on July 5 and a special gala concert on July 12, a dance-inspired program featuring both the Boston Symphony and fellows of the Tanglewood Music Center, the BSO’s prestigious summer music academy. This season, Tanglewood will offer a special focus on American music with orchestral, opera, and film presentations in the Koussevitzky Music Shed, and opera, chamber music, and recital programs in Ozawa Hall, which marks its 20th anniversary season in 2014. Check out the website for the extensive roster of shows and events, including a number of non-classical shows, such as Tanglewood regular James Taylor, who perform in the Koussevitzky Music Shed on July 3 and 4, with both performances followed by fireworks displays.

BrimfieldBrimfield Antique Show
Route 20, Brimfield, MA
(413) 283-6149; www.quaboaghills.com
Admission: Free
July 8-13: What began humbly — when a local auctioneer decided to hold open-air auctions on his property, and grew into a successful flea market — eventually began including neighboring properties as it grew. It expanded in the ’80s and ’90s to a one-mile stretch of Route 20 on both sides, and these days, the Brimfield Antique Show is a six-mile stretch of heaven for people to value antiques, collectibles, and flea-market finds. Some 6,000 dealers and close to 1 million total visitors show up at the three annual, week-long events; the first was in May, and the third runs Sept. 2-7. The Brimfield Antique Show labels itself the “Antiques and Collectibles Capital of the United States,” and — judging by its scope and number of visitors — it’s hard to disagree.

Green River Festival

Greenfield Community College, One College Dr., Greenfield
(413) 773-5463; www.greenriverfestival.com
Admission: Weekend, $75; Saturday, $49.99; Sunday, $34.99
July 12-13: For one weekend every July, Greenfield Community College hosts a high-energy celebration of music; local food, beer, and wine; handmade crafts; and family games and activities — all topped off with four hot-air-balloon launches (rides are available) and a spectacular Saturday-night ‘balloon glow.’ The music is continuous on three stages, and this year features Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, Josh Ritter and the Royal City Band, Lucius, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Trampled by Turtles, Grant Lee Phillips, and more than two dozen other artists. Children under 10 can get in for free, as the family-friendly festival features children’s music performers, a kid’s activity tent, games, circus acts, a Mardi Gras parade, and other surprises. New for 2014 is the Maker’s Market, a collective of fine artisans from across Western Mass., offering an impressive array of handmade crafts and jewelry. The festival began in 1986 as purely a hot-air-balloon affair, but quickly integrated musical entertainment into the event. Now, its one of the most eclectic events in the Valley.

Hampshire College, 893 West St., Amherst
(413) 256-4900; www.yiddishbookcenter.org/yidstock
Admission: Festival pass, $145 for members or $185 general admission; tickets may be purchased for individual events
July 17-20: Boasting an array of films, concerts, lectures, and workshops, Yidstock 2014: The Festival of New Yiddish Music lands in Amherst in mid-July. The third annual Yidstock festival will bring the best in klezmer and new Yiddish music to the stage at the Yiddish Book Center. The festival pass includes admission to all concerts, lectures, and workshops.
The weekend will offer an intriguing glimpse into Jewish roots and jazzy soul music through popular Yiddish bands like the Klezmer Conservatory Band, Klezmatics, Frank London’s Klezmer Brass All-Stars, and more. Friday and Saturday feature dance workshops as well.

New England Collegiate Baseball League All-Star Game
MacKenzie Stadium, 500 Beech St., Holyoke
(413) 533-1100; www.valleybluesox.com
Admission: $5-$8
July 20: The Valley Blue Sox (formerly the Holyoke Blue Sox) continue to bring plenty of baseball excitement to Holyoke and its surroundings, playing in a league that attracts some of the top collegiate talent each summer. “It’s a tremendous opportunity for these guys to really showcase their talent in a professional setting,” General Manager Hunter Golden said. “Major League Baseball is a big believer in our product and the caliber of players we bring. Watch the College World Series, and chances are you’ll see half our roster.” This year MacKenzie will host the league All-Star Game, starting at 12 noon on July 20, but the club will play plenty of other home games into early August — usually featuring giveaways and other promotions — to provide families with a fun, affordable evening out.

Bang on a Can Plays Art
1040 MASS MoCA Way, North Adams
(413) 662-2111; www.massmoca.org
Admission: Festival pass, $75; individual concerts, $15-$24
July 26 to Aug 2: The Bang on a Can Summer Music Festival, a residency program for composers and performers, will take place from July 15 through Aug. 4 at MASS MoCA. The heart of this three-week workshop is a week-long series of 14 concerts running from July 26 to Aug. 2, highlighted by two major Saturday events in the museum’s Hunter Auditorium. The first is David Lang’s “death speaks” on July 26 at 8 p.m., featuring the Bang on a Can All-Stars with special guest Shara Worden. Lang combed through every song by Franz Schubert and pulled out just the moments when Death is a character, speaking directly to us, and then set those texts to new music. On Aug. 2 at 4 p.m., the museum will present the six-hour Bang on a Can Marathon with special guests Steve Reich and Glenn Kotche of Wilco. The festival finale will include more than 50 musicians and composers from around the world, and will feature Steve Reich’s newest composition “Radio Rewrite,” a remix of two songs by Radiohead. Another highlight will be a rare performance of Edgar Varese’s riotous masterpiece “Ionisation,” the first piece ever written for percussion ensemble.

Springfield Jazz & Roots Festival
Court Square, Springfield
(413) 303-0101
Admission: Free
Aug 9: Following in the footsteps of the Hoop City Jazz and Arts Festival, which drew more than 20,000 people to downtown Springfield, is the inaugural Springfield Jazz & Roots Festival, intended to celebrate the emergence of Springfield’s Cultural District and promote an arts-driven, community-oriented, and sustainable revitalization of the city. The event will offer a festive atmosphere featuring locally and internationally acclaimed musical artists, a variety of ethnic cuisines and local food producers, and more. This inclusive event aims to bring people from Springfield and the surrounding region together to foster connection, stimulate the local economy, and highlight positive initiatives contributing to the betterment of Springfield’s residents, and uniting the city with the rest of the Pioneer Valley. The festival is being produced by Blues to Green, a nonprofit organization led by Kristin Neville, wife of legendary jazz musician Charles Neville. The organization’s mission is to use music and art to celebrate community and culture, build shared purpose, and catalyze social and environmental change.

Dog Shows at the Eastern States Exposition
1305 Memorial Ave., West Springfield
(413) 737-2443; www.thebige.com
Admission: Free
Aug. 20-24: The Big E fairgrounds certainly haven’t gone to the dogs, but it will seem that way for five days in August, when dog shows take over the Better Living Center. The Elm City Kennel Club Dog Show will be in town on Aug. 20 and 24, the Newtown Kennel Club Dog Show will take over on Aug. 21 and 23, while the Northwestern Connecticut Kennel Club Dog Show will make an appearance on Aug. 22. Come see dogs in all breeds compete for best in class and best in show.

Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival
358 George Carter Road, Becket
(413) 243-0745; www.jacobspillow.org
Admission: $50-$150
Aug. 23: In its 82nd season, Jacob’s Pillow has become one of the premier venues for dance in the U.S. Dance enthusiasts will surely marvel at the dozens of free and ticketed recitals performed by celebrated companies from around the world, not to mention Jacob’s Pillow’s other offerings of photography and art exhibits, seminars, discussions, and film screenings. The season concludes on Aug. 23 with the Festival Finale, featuring a performance by the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet or LeeSaar. The ticket also includes entry to a festive after-party, with drinks, desserts, photo-booth fun, and DJ BFG spinning live at the ultimate dance celebration. Proceeds benefit the community programs of Jacob’s Pillow.Jacobs-Pillow2

Three County Fair
41 Fair St., Northampton
(413) 584-2237; www.threecountyfair.com
Admission: $8-$10
Aug. 29 to Sept. 1: In 1818, the Hampshire, Franklin & Hampden Agricultural Society was formed, with the purpose of promoting agriculture, agricultural education, and agricultural science in the Commonwealth. The society relied on exhibitions, displays, competitions, and demonstrations to fulfill its purposes, awarding prizes in agricultural and domestic categories. Almost 200 years later, the society’s original purpose still provides the umbrella under which the Three County Fair is presented to the public. Over time, however, various entertainment events became part of the annual fair, from carnival rides and games to thoroughbred horse racing, horse demonstrations, crafts, and, of course, plenty of food. “Taste the past, enjoy the present,” fair organizers say, and visitors will certainly experience a good deal of both.

Blandford Fair
10 North St., Blandford
(413) 848-0995; www.theblandfordfair.com
Admission: $5-$10
Aug. 29 to Sept. 1: Not much has changed in the 145 years of the Blandford Fair, but that’s what makes it so charming. This Labor Day weekend, at the 147th edition of the event, fairgoers can witness the classic rituals of the giant pumpkin display, the pony draw, and the horseshoe tournament, plus more modern additions, like the fantastically loud chainsaw-carving demonstration and the windshield-smashing demolition derby. With many more exhibits and attractions to offer, a weekend at the Blandford Fair is an ideal way for families to close out the summer.

SturbridgeOld Sturbridge Village Family Fun Days
1 Old Sturbridge Village Road, Sturbridge, MA
(800) 733-1830; www.osv.org
Admission: Adults, $24; children, free
Aug. 31 to Sept. 2: Bring the whole family to Old Sturbridge Village on Labor Day weekend, when the largest outdoor history museum in the Northeast opens its doors to children for free (normally, youth admission is $8). Guests are invited to play baseball the way early New Englanders did, make a craft, join a game of French & English (tug of war), meet the oxen in training, try their hand at marbling paper, see a puppet show, watch a toy fire-balloon flight, visit the Freeman Farm, stop and see craftsmen at work, and much more. In addition, the weekend will feature appearances by Bob Olson, performing 19th-century magic, as well as the Old Sturbridge Village Singers and the Old Sturbridge Village Dancers. Let your kids step back into the 1830s and enjoy the last summer weekend before school.

St. George Cathedral, 22 St. George Road, Springfield
(413) 737-1496; stgeorgecath.org
Admission: Free
Sept. 5-7: Every year, St. George Cathedral offers thousands of visitors the best in traditional Greek foods, pastries, music, dancing, and old-fashioned Greek hospitality. In addition, the festival offers activities for children, tours of the historic St. George Cathedral and Byzantine Chapel, various vendors from across the East Coast, icon workshops, movies in the Glendi Theatre, cooking demonstrations, and a joyful atmosphere that the whole family will enjoy.

Sections Travel and Tourism
Six Flags New England Reaches Higher — Much Higher


Jennifer McGrath

Jennifer McGrath says the 400-foot-tall New England Sky Screamer will take the classic theme-park swing ride to the extreme.

Just cross the South End Bridge in Springfield and look south, and it’s easy to see how Six Flags New England already towers over the Connecticut River. On a clear day, Bizarro, Scream, Goliath, and the Cyclone are clearly visible in the distance.

The tallest of those, the award-winning Bizarro rollercoaster and the Scream drop ride, reach about 200 feet into the air, offering breathtaking — and, for some riders, nerve-wracking — views of the river, Mount Tom to the north, and Connecticut to the south.

Now imagine being twice that high.

Actually, visitors won’t have to imagine once the park unveils its newest attraction, the New England Sky Screamer, this summer. Lifting patrons 400 feet up and then swinging them around for two minutes at 35 mph, it’s touted as the world’s tallest swing ride.

Clearly, Six Flags has come a long way in the 15 years since the chain acquired historic Riverside Park, adding it to its international stable of destinations, adding numerous major rides and a bustling water park, and effectively doubling the property’s size. And now, it’s touting a new height record to boot.

“It’s taking that swing ride we know and love and adding every possible element of thrill and fear into it,” said Jennifer McGrath, communications manager for Six Flags New England. “Your arms and legs are exposed in the air, your swing is on chains, just like that classic family swing ride — except this is not classic.”

The ride, which is painted red, white, and blue, will glow with color-changing LED lights at night, she added. “We don’t feel it’s just a new ride for Six Flags New England; we feel it’s a new icon, something people will identify with Western Mass. You can see it from the Springfield area and well into Enfield and Suffield. Six Flags loves breaking records, and they feel this ride is something special, and they know Six Flags guests are going to love it.”

As a prominent chain in a highly competitive industry, Six Flags is always looking to the future, mapping out a national strategy of park additions to keep the buzz high at its 13 parks in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. Not every park gets a major addition on the level of a Sky Screamer every year, but Agawam has received plenty of recent attention, adding the Bonzai Pipeline slides in the Hurricane Harbor water park in 2013, the Goliath switchback coaster in 2012, and the Gotham City Gauntlet mouse coaster in 2011.

“It’s amazing what we’ve evolved to, and we continue to grow,” McGrath said, noting that it’s a cornerstone of the Six Flags brand to continually invest new capital in its properties.

“In true Six Flags fashion, we’re going even bigger in 2014 with our new attractions,” added Jim Reid-Anderson, the chain’s chairman, president, and CEO, in a press statement. “Our promise to you is to bring something new to every single park every year.”

Work and Play

Economic-development and tourism officials have long pointed to Six Flags New England as a major economic engine for the region. While the park, as a publicly held company, does not release attendance figures, it easily outdraws the number-two tourist attraction in Western Mass., Yankee Candle Village, which records 1.5 million guests per year.


Six Flags officials say they’re committed to introducing something new at all the chain’s parks every year.

“Six Flags has been a wonderful neighbor to Agawam. They’re one of the top five taxpayers in the community, they work closely with all our departments, and they are a huge economic boon to the Pioneer Valley as a whole,” Agawam Mayor Richard Cohen told BusinessWest. “And it’s a regional tourist attraction, so it’s not just great for Agawam, but for the whole Valley.”

Six Flags is a significant employer as well, with more than 100 year-round employees, about half of whom work in maintenance. In the offseason, they’re busy enhancing the grounds, from new painting and signage to landscaping and structural improvements.

In addition, the park hires more than 3,000 seasonal workers annually, giving a major boost to the region’s efforts to employ high-school and college-age individuals, who are facing an historically lean market for summer jobs.

“They’re one of the largest hiring employers in the summer for seasonal purposes, which is great in these economic times,” Cohen said, referring to not only young people, but older individuals who might be unemployed or between jobs. “They really are good neighbors, and we’re really proud to have them in Agawam.”

He noted that the public ownership group that bought Six Flags in 2010 has been much easier to work and communicate with than Premier Parks, which operated the chain from 1998 until its Chapter 11 bankruptcy and restructuring a decade later. That’s important, he said, when planning a project like the Sky Screamer, which has the potential of drawing bigger crowds to the park, but is also a significant change to this small town’s skyline.

“They came to us early, in a very timely manner, and answered all our questions,” the mayor said, adding that Agawam residents were largely supportive of the project. “There were some people — not many — afraid that this would change the landscape of the area. But we already have cell towers. And they did this in patriotic colors. They took our concerns into consideration, and it was done tastefully. I have not had many — if any — complaints at all.

“Everything was done expeditiously — the public announcement, meetings, permits,” he reiterated. “They don’t wait until the last minute. Since the new regime took over, they work well on the local level, answering the concerns that people have. The relationship is much healthier, and communication has been much better.”

That’s not to say the park hasn’t been growing all along. Since becoming a Six Flags property in 1998, it has introduced a raft of thrill rides, including Bizarro (formerly Superman: Ride of Steel), winner of five Golden Ticket Awards from Amusement Today as the nation’s top steel coaster, in 2000; Flashback, a switchback coaster, also in 2000; Batman: the Dark Knight, a floorless coaster, in 2002; Pandemonium, a kid-friendly spinning coaster, in 2005; and, of course, the recent additions.

Meanwhile, Hurricane Harbor, which now totals 33 waterslides in addition to a lazy river, two wave pools, and other watery fun, opened in 1998 as part of the Six Flags makeover.

The entire property now comprises more than 270 acres, and ranks as both the largest amusement park and largest water park in New England.

Food for Thought

Other recent changes are less flashy, but are significant to many patrons. For example, McGrath said, restaurant menus will add food items, including more vegetarian fare — a shift that guests had been asking for. Once again, the park will offer a $99 dining plan along with its popular season-ticket options, allowing guests one lunch and one dinner per visit throughout the season.

As for the season tickets, they are priced at different tiers — higher tiers include free parking all year, among other amenities — but tend to pay for themselves within two or three visits, making Six Flags an affordable recreation option for area families, McGrath said. That’s important in a stressed economy, when many families can’t afford to fly to vacation destinations. “This is a day trip for anyone, all the way up to Maine — down to Pennsylvania, even.”

Many of those visitors are parents and grandparents taking their kids to Six Flags and sharing their fond memories of Riverside Park, which existed as an amusement park alongside the Connecticut River for about 90 years.

Some relics remain on the grounds, McGrath said, from the 1909 carousel to the antique automobiles that rattle along a metal track and give youngsters the chance to experience driving a car. Then there’s the Thunderbolt, the 1941 wooden coaster — standing 70 feet tall and traveling up to 40 mph — that has been called a landmark by American coaster enthusiasts. Six Flags preserves rides like this, McGrath said, because the company understands the special memories they have for many.

No matter what a ride’s age, she noted, maintenance teams check each attraction daily, often from as early as 5 a.m. “Our staff is diligent in regard to checking safety, and it’s a main focus — before the park opens, during, after, every potential minute for our guests, it’s a thorough process.”

Besides its obvious link to families, Six Flags involves itself in the community through charity events as well, working with more than 3,000 organizations annually across its 13-park footprint. Locally, that includes school-supply drives and coat drives for children, as well as Cause for Paws, an event that raises money for the Dakin Pioneer Valley Humane Society, and an annual skin-cancer-awareness event.

But the main buzz right now is clearly on the rides, which opened to their first guests of the 2014 season on April 12. New England Sky Screamer will open a bit later in the season, and though it’s expected to be a hit, it won’t be the last one, McGrath said.

“Right now, we are well into the planning process of 2015, even though we are executing 2014,” she told BusinessWest. “When it comes to building a new attraction for the park, we listen to our guests, of course, and what they would like to see in the future. We want to entertain those of all ages.”

After all, at the end of the day, it’s all about reaching new heights of entertainment — literally and figuratively.

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Sections Travel and Tourism
Historic Deerfield Opens a Door to 18th-Century New England


Philip Zea

Philip Zea says his mission at Historic Deerfield is to bring the heritage of the Connecticut River Valley to life.

For Historic Deerfield President Philip Zea and his staff, the yearly mission is not simply to preserve the heritage of the Connecticut River Valley, but instead to bring it to life.

And they do so with an intriguing, and always evolving, blend of education and entertainment.

“We’re a lot like a professional sports team in the sense that what we do for a living is other people’s recreation,” said Zea as he worked through an interesting analogy. “We want everyone who comes here to have a great time, but also an informative time.”

Once a bustling destination along the 18th-century Boston-to-Albany road, the 104-acre property is now one of the state’s most popular outdoor history museums. Zea, who has enjoyed two stints at Historic Deerfield, first as chief curator for 18 years and later as president — a position he has held for 11 years — oversees a staff of 47. His passion for researching history and sharing it with others has allowed the museum to steadily increase its attendance over the past five years, thus boosting the bottom line at a time when many museums struggle to gain the time and attention of families with plenty of entertainment options.

And Zea and his staff have a positive outlook for the museum, which saw its total income increase by more than $328,000 from 2012 to 2013 (excluding $510,000 awarded to the museum in 2012 through business-interruption proceeds disbursed as a result of Tropical Storm Irene; more on that later). The solid rebound year generated total revenues of more than $4 million for the facility, said Zea, noting that the biggest challenge facing his staff in future years is to continue to evolve and improve to better serve the community’s needs.

“We want to provide people with a sense of confidence that, if they invest their time and money in us, then they are going to come here and have a good time,” he said. “We’re constantly reinventing ourselves and learning more about the history of the area to ensure the public has a great experience here.”

Education is a primary focus for the museum staff, which hosts thousands of students each year from throughout Massachusetts, Vermont, and New Hampshire. Along with Plimoth Plantation and Old Sturbridge Village, Historic Deerfield ranks at the top of the field-trip list for teachers looking to bring their students to an outdoor history museum. Boasting 54 buildings and an expansive campus, students can view everything from hearth-cooking demonstrations to architectural woodworking.

“We have a very robust education program here. In addition to field trips, we also provide programs to help Girl Scouts earn their badges,” said Laurie Nivison, Historic Deerfield’s director of marketing. “We’re looking into arranging programs for the Boy Scouts as well.”

Drawing new visitors is an annual priority for the staff. Zea said the museum has seen an increase in school field trips since 2012, but family trips and private tours in the summer and fall months have also accounted for a significant percentage of visitors. While Historic Deerfield largely remains a hidden New England gem — residents of New England states represented just half of the museum’s total visitors in 2013 — national and international interest has picked up, with 10% of last year’s guests visiting from foreign countries.

The museum’s collection of early-American furniture, ceramics, textiles, and metalwork is a key draw for many guests. The collection was expanded in 2013 with the acquisition of 178 rare objects, including 48 items from the William T. Brandon Memorial Collection of American Redware and Ceramics. All but 30 of the items acquired this year were gifts to Historic Deerfield.

“What’s great about working here is that the setting is the story, with the meadows and village and buildings all adding up to be our biggest artifact,” Zea said. “We like to focus on what people’s lifestyles were like back in the 18th century, learning not only from the physical environment but also the temporal environment.”

Added Nivision, “depending on what your interests are, there’s something here for everyone.”

History Lessons

With ongoing research conducted daily by staff members, there’s something new to learn about the region’s history with each visit. From Benedict Arnold’s arrival in Deerfield to recruit troops (before his turncoat days) to the significance of Barnard Tavern as a political and social hub of the community, new knowledge is just waiting to be discovered at a very old place.

As early as the 1800s, Historic Deerfield, site of the infamous Indian raid of 1704 that claimed the lives of 50 settlers, was attracting history buffs, Zea said, describing letters in the museum’s research library that document Mount Holyoke College students traveling to the campus in the 1830s.

But in order to preserve and present history, the staff at Historic Deerfield must address a number of challenges — everything from Mother Nature (this is an outdoor facility) to that aforementioned competition for the time and dollars of 21st-century families.

For starters, said Zea, the staff must embrace the innate challenge of maintaining the buildings where history was made. Major renovations of two prominent buildings have topped the list of priorities in recent years. The Deerfield Inn, which was damaged by floodwaters during Tropical Storm Irene in 2011, was dramatically transformed, including a completely renovated kitchen, the installation of a new fireplace in the dining room, and significant upgrades to the terrace room. Built in 1884, the building continues to serve travelers as it did 130 years ago.

“Reactions to the new interior design have been overwhelmingly positive,” wrote Anne Groves, chair of Historic Deerfield’s board of trustees, in a letter for the museum’s annual report. “The project team did an exemplary job in managing the renovation and the financial analysis involved in bringing the Inn back online.”

Meanwhile, Barnard Tavern is in the process of undergoing an extensive makeover, which includes repairing the foundation, stabilizing the chimneys, restoring wall paneling, replacing the heating system, and reconstructing the stairway and railings. Completion of the project is scheduled for 2015, 220 years after the tavern was first constructed in 1795.

Meanwhile, attendance is an ongoing challenge, and the staff at the museum addresses it by establishing new and engaging programs and exhibits.

Last year, for example, introduced a three-day workshop called “Every Dish Has a Past,” focused on research of historical recipes — a program that concluded in tasty fashion, with participants cooking the meals they researched.

Moreover, the theme of the museum’s 2014 Dublin Seminar for New England Folklife will be sports and recreation in New England. Taking place June 20-22, the annual seminar will include presentations on hunting, fishing, hiking, climbing, marksmanship, horsemanship, and the paths to popularity of sports like hockey, baseball, and basketball. Lectures will also be given on the history of sports record keeping and statistics, as well as the evolution of sports apparel.

Along with these new additions to the museum’s lineup, Historic Deerfield will return many of its beloved events and activities from past years, beginning on April 26, when a Patriots’ Day re-enactment will feature a cannon-firing display, a parade, and colonial craft activities. The museum will also host its annual Columbus Day antique show, presented by the Antiques Dealers Assoc. of America.

“The Patriots’ Day event is always fun for families, usually drawing at least 300 people,” Nivison said. “It’s a great chance to come out and see several different groups take part in the re-enactment.”

Another goal for the staff in 2014 is to not only educate visitors about the setting and the historical events that have taken place in Deerfield, but to also accentuate the stories of the people who made those events significant.

Zea said it’s imperative to emphasize what people’s lives were like so visitors will have a better understanding of their motivations and interests. The rise of Deerfield as a cultural and political hub, for example, was contingent on geography and the arrangement of roadways, with Deerfield marking the intersection between the Boston-to-Albany road and the north-south Hartford-to-Hanover (N.H.) route, an 18th-century equivalent to the junction of I-90 and I-91.

“It’s important to focus on community history and also domestic history by sharing how people lived and traveled and encountered locations like Deerfield in the first place,” said Zea.

It Takes a Village

The phrase ‘living museum’ has come into use in recent years to categorize facilities like Historic Deerfield, and it’s an apt term.

It accurately describes how such museums show how people lived, but it also suggests that such facilities are constantly evolving and finding new ways to not only transport people back in time, but to help them understand what they’re seeing and put it into historical perspective.

It’s all a part of making the past come alive, said Zea, adding that Historic Deerfield’s imaginative work of the past several years will ensure a solid future for this key regional tourist destination.

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