Community Spotlight: Lenox
Lenox Aims to Become a Year-round DestinationOn March 5, Yankee magazine named Lenox the “prettiest winter village in New England.”
The accolade was not only timely, but in perfect alignment with recent efforts by the town and the Chamber of Commerce to market Lenox as a year-round tourist destination.
“Although we are known for what happens here in the summer, we want people to realize there is a lot to see and do in Lenox 12 months a year, especially in terms of recreation and culture,” said Town Manager Christopher Ketchen.
Ralph Petillo agreed. “Lenox used to be perceived as a summer resort, but today it attracts people in every season, and the winter is the perfect time to come here, enjoy the beauty of nature, and regenerate the mind and body,” said the chamber’s executive director. “There is value in that, and this is a wonderful place to live, work, and play.
“Lenox has great cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in Kennedy Park and three downhill ski areas within a 20-minute drive,” he went on. “We’re also home to Canyon Ranch, and Travel and Leisure magazine ranked it as the number-one health spa in the nation. Bill Clinton went there five times last year.”
A second high-end resort that will add to the mix is in the approval process. The palatial, Gilded Age mansion known as Elm Court, which sits on almost 90 acres in Stockbridge with frontage in Lenox, was purchased for $9.8 million in 2012, and Travassa Destination Resorts & Spas, which runs high-end destination spas in Maui, Hawaii, and Austin, Texas, is hoping to transform it into an elaborate, upscale resort/spa with a restaurant.
In addition, plans are moving forward for a $15 to $20 million renovation of the historic, 29-acre Spring Lawn property, which will be become a 95-room, 14-building resort with a unique twist. “It will be open to the public, but will also offer memberships that will allow people to stay there at a reduced rate; the goal is to incentivize return customers and attract new clientele who like to visit the Berkshires, but don’t necessarily want a second home here,” said Gwen Miller, town planner and land use director.
The buildout of the property will occur in two phases. During phase one, the mansion will be turned into a 20-room inn with a restaurant, and the carriage house will be outfitted as a fitness center. Phase two, based on market demand, will include construction of a dozen low-rise buildings that will house an additional 75 hotel rooms.
“A number of older structures will be torn down, and the new buildings will be carefully sited,” Miller said. “The membership option will make it easier for people to come here, as they will know exactly where they will be staying. Spring Lawn is within walking distance to downtown and contains hiking trails and a skating pond with views of Stockbridge Bowl. The master planners really took the historic landscape design into consideration, and the views and trails on the property help make it a desirable location.”
The town is also being promoted by a number of popular venues offering a wide range of wedding packages. They include Blantyre (Castle), the Brook Farm Inn, and Chesapeake Inn of Lenox.
The Lenox Chamber of Commerce launched a phone app in late December. It is updated daily and lists restaurant specials, store sales, and things to see and do, as well as school closings and other town-related information. A number of businesses are also offering loyalty programs and promotions through the app, such as giving a 10th lunch free at a restaurant.
“We’re helping to shape the future by changing with it,” Petillo said, as he spoke about the new app. “People age 50 and under are much more tech-savvy than they were in the past, so we deemed it prudent to create this app, which we linked to Facebook and to our chamber website. It becomes a personal guide to what’s happening every day in Lenox and even has a section on weddings that lists the places that are available and the contact people, as well as a service directory with plumbers, electricians, doctors, lawyers, real-estate agents and other professionals.”
Keeping up with the times is important because the face of Lenox continues to evolve. Petillo said that, although it was once a summer getaway for the upper 2% of Americans, including the Vanderbilt and J.P. Morgan families, after Tanglewood opened 75 years ago and General Electric left Pittsfield, Lenox became the perfect place to establish year-round cottage industries.
“The number of tourist attractions here is growing, and last year Shakespeare and Co. extended its season,” Petillo told BusinessWest. “The Mount is now open eight months a year, and the National Museum of the Gilded Age and Ventford Hall Mansion and Gilded Age Museum are both open year-round.”
Special events are also staged to attract tourists, and the summer season will kick off with the town’s annual Memorial Day Races, which start and end at Tanglewood and include a marathon, half-marathon, 10k, and 5k, as well as a 15k trail race.
Last year, participants came from more than 25 states and nations, including Florida, California, Canada, the Philippines, and Brazil. “We look forward to having folks take part in this great event, especially since it helps raise money for Team Red, White and Blue, which supports veterans,” Ketchen said.
The town has also focused on promoting Kennedy Park, which contains 500 acres, is used by locals 12 months a year, and boasts several different entrances.
“It’s the recreational gem of the town and is located right in the center, off of Routes 7 and 20. It’s a five-minute walk from our downtown, which contains boutique shops and galleries and a plethora of restaurants, and it’s not uncommon to see mountain bikers stopping to get a coffee or something to eat,” Ketchen said. “But the park is also an ideal place to go snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, hiking, and horseback riding. People can rent skis and snowshoes at the Arcadian Shop, and horses at Berkshire Horseback and Undermountain Farm.”
Meanwhile, efforts are being made to revive the man-made Baker’s Pond, which sits in a remote area of the park. “It served as a water source for the cottage known as the Dormers during the Gilded Age and was acquired by the town years ago,” Ketchen said. “A number of trails go into that part of the park, but the pond has slowly filled in over time.”
Last fall, the town received a $100,000 grant from the state to restore the area, and plans were made to dredge the pond to remove invasive species, then refill it. Access to the trails is being improved, and Berkshire Community College is working with town officials to develop an environmental curriculum that will allow students to study the ecology around the pond.
“The town also hopes to eliminate hardy kiwi from around the pond. It is an invasive plant, and we are working with the Mass. Natural Heritage Endangered Species Program, under the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, to do this,” Ketchen said, noting that Lenox is seeking a $15,000 state grant that would be matched by an equal amount from the city, if the Board of Selectmen votes to move forward with the project during its May 7 meeting. He added that Massachusetts Audubon’s Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary, which offers hiking on seven miles of trails, along with a number of other activities, is right around the corner from Kennedy Park, and has joined the effort to mitigate the impact of hardy kiwi on the properties.
Petillo said Lenox was called “A Gem Among the Hills” in a Chamber publication in 1921, and he noted that the Church on the Hill at the entrance to Kennedy Park is the most-photographed church in New England.
Visitors can find its exact location as well as a lot more to see and do by downloading the new phone app, and Petillo believes the new technology tool, coupled with efforts to promote events taking place throughout the year, will help increase tourism.
“Our fall season has become as busy as the summer. Our Apple Squeeze and Harvest Festival features phenomenal food, artisans, and crafts, and celebrates life in Lenox. It’s Americana at its best,” he said. “And our annual Tub Parade marks the end of the summer, while re-enacting an event held in the Gilded Age. The men used to go hunting right before the cottages were closed for the summer, and while they were gone, the ladies would decorate small, horse-drawn carriages, then drive them through town when they returned.
“Lenox is steeped in history,” he went on, “and we are doing all we can to draw the tourist of today and tomorrow and let them know all that we have to offer.”
Lenox at a glance
Year Incorporated: 1767
Area: 21.7 square miles
Residential Tax Rate: $12.33
Commercial Tax Rate: $15.18
Median Household Income: $51,089
Family Household Income: $74,531
Government: Town Manager; Board of Selectmen
Largest Employers: B Mango and Bird; Cranwell Resort Spa and Golf; Guidewire Inc.; Boston Symphony Orchestra
* Latest information available