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Ready to Take Off

Aer Lingus

The Aer Lingus flights scheduled to begin at Bradley International Airport in September are expected to attract a mix of business and leisure passengers .

As they talked about the Aer Lingus flights set to begin at Bradley International Airport late next month, Kevin Dillon and Keith Butler used strikingly similar language as they discussed what the service means to their respective organizations.

Indeed, Dillon, executive director and CEO of the Connecticut Airport Authority (CAA), which manages Bradley, and Butler, chief commercial officer for the Dublin, Ireland-based airline, said the timing for this venture is ideal, that the flight represents a key component of their respective growth strategies, and that it could be a catalyst for more developments of this type.

And they were in agreement on something else, too: that a firm commitment from the region’s business community — with ‘region,’ in this case, meaning what has come to be called the Knowledge Corridor — is necessary for this venture to, well, get off the ground.

“The success of this flight relies heavily on business travel,” said Dillon. “We know that this is going to be an extremely popular route in the summer months — we’ll have a lot of leisure travelers on this flight — but in order to retain a flight, it has to be successful year-round.”

Added Butler, “we’re expecting good volumes of both leisure and business travel, but support from businesses will obviously be a key to success in Hartford.”

Looking ahead, both the airline and the airport believe they will get such a commitment, in large part because their research — and especially the CAA’s — tells them there is considerable demand for such a service (more on that later).

Kevin Dillon

Kevin Dillon

The Aer Lingus flight will depart Bradley just after 6 p.m., local time, and arrive in Dublin at 5:20 the next morning, meaning that someone could be in London (via a connecting flight) for the start of the workday there, said Butler. The return flight will leave Ireland at 2:20 p.m. and arrive in Hartford at 4:20.

“You can essentially do a day’s work in Connecticut, hop on a plane, and immediately the following day do a full day’s work in London — if that’s what you wanted to do,” said Butler.

The flights will be on a Boeing 757, with 12 business-class seats and 165 in economy. Those aren’t big numbers, but the impact of this flight could be enormous, said both Butler and Dillon.

For Aer Lingus, now the fastest-growing airline in the world in terms of trans-Atlantic business, the Hartford flights represent another spoke in the wheel when it comes to a broad growth strategy that has seen the company add flights in several U.S. cities in recent years.

“We’ve nearly doubled our trans-Atlantic capacity over the past five years,” said Butler, while quantifying the growth of Aer Lingus, now part of IAG, which also owns British Airways. “We’ve expanded our business model; we don’t just fly people between the U.S. and Ireland — we’re increasingly flying more people into Europe via Dublin, and we’re looking to continue to grow.”

As for Bradley, the impact could be even bigger, largely because of what Aer Lingus has done in terms of broadening its reach, said Dillon, noting that, while the airport is, indeed, an international airport, that term is narrow in scope and limited to this continent. With the Aer Lingus flight, the definition will become much broader.

Keith Butler

Keith Butler

Indeed, while the service will connect business and leisure travelers alike to the Emerald Isle itself — and there is ample demand for that — it will also bring convenient connections to dozens of other cities across Europe, meaning that travelers can begin their journey to those destinations by driving to Windsor Locks, not Boston, New York, or Newark, which represents a tremendous opportunity for the airport.

“Passengers from Hartford will be able to connect to at least 24 European cities,” Butler explained. “That includes London, Paris, Amsterdam, Madrid, Barcelona, Frankfurt, Munich, and many cities in Great Britain. Our flights won’t just connect people to Dublin, but all of Europe.”

For this issue and its focus on travel and tourism, BusinessWest takes an in-depth look at the Aer Lingus service out of Bradley, and at what it means for the airport, the airline, and, most importantly, this region.

Soar Subject

When asked for a timeline on the Aer Lingus service and a quick explanation of how it came about, Dillon ventured back to 2012 and the creation of the CAA, which brought what he called a “dedicated focus to aviation in this region.”

As part of this stated mission, the organization undertook extensive outreach to the Hartford-Springfield business community, with the goal of identifying ways to improve service to that vital constituency, said Dillon, adding that, while the results were not exactly surprising, they did provide the CAA with confirmation of what was wanted and needed, and thus a specific direction in which to move.

Actually, several of them, as things turned out. He noted that one of the stated desires within the business community was for non-stop service to the West Coast, a need addressed through a partnership with American Airlines, which in June began service out of Bradley to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).


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“So far, it’s proving to be a very popular service,” said Dillon, adding that the flight not only provides business and leisure travelers with better, easier access to the West Coast, but also to Asia, which has become an increasingly popular destination for both constituencies.

But in many ways, the bigger stated priority was for trans-Atlantic flights, said Dillon, citing some eye-opening numbers gained through the CAA’s outreach.

“We worked with 23 companies representative of those across our catchment area,” he said, meaning the Hartford-Springfield corridor. “What we found is that those 23 companies were spending more than $43 million annually on trans-Atlantic travel. And we said, ‘if we could get just a piece of that, we could have a very successful trans-Atlantic route.”

Bradley has long sought such service as a growth vehicle and means to make it the proverbial airport of choice for people in this region. And it had such service nearly a decade ago, when Northwest Airlines introduced non-stop flights to Amsterdam, but that venture was doomed by poor timing — sky-high fuel prices and then the Great Recession — and the service ceased in September 2008.

Since then, Bradley and the CAA have been relentless in their quest to bring Europe back within its direct reach. But that sentiment hardly makes it unique.

“There are a lot of airports that are very hungry for European connections — the competition is actually quite fierce,” said Butler with a laugh, noting that Aer Lingus, now celebrating 80 years in business, has had many suitors, and many attractive options, as it has weighed proposals for continuing and accelerating its strong pace of growth.

Airports that want to prevail in that competition have to present opportunity in the form of a package of location, attractive conditions, ample opportunities to effectively market the service, and suitable demographics, meaning a mix of both leisure and business travelers looking for something more convenient than the available options.

Hartford presented just such a package, said Butler, adding that it became an attractive addition to the airline’s existing Northeast-corridor service in and out of New York (JFK), Boston, Newark, and Washington (Dulles), for many reasons.

“Hartford came about because it represented an opportunity to strengthen our position in the Northeast,” he explained. “It has strong cultural ties to Ireland, but also business relations. At the same time, we were also looking to try something different, and go into a secondary city.

“Bradley fits, and Hartford fits, into a broader plan we have for expansion,” he went on, adding that the airline has also recently added service to San Francisco, Toronto, and Los Angeles, among other destinations. “We’re growing quite rapidly.”

Indeed, the airline now flies to almost every major city in Europe — with 18 flights daily to London alone — as well as many destinations on this side of the Atlantic.

The timing for such additions is appropriate, he went on, adding that economic conditions globally have improved greatly since the recession, and that is especially true in Ireland, meaning more people are flying out of airports there for destinations on both sides of the Atlantic.

As for the Hartford flights, there will be four per week during the winter months, which Butler defines as October to March, and daily flights (all seven days) the rest of the year to accommodate greater leisure travel.

Dillon told BusinessWest that the initial response has been quite solid, and he expects demand to remain steady, because of the high level of connectivity to European cities that Aer Lingus provides, and also the airline’s ability to provide pre-clearance for its passengers heading back to the U.S., a service that could save them a two-hour trip in the line at customs.

The task at hand is to extensively market and promote the new flights and drive home to the business community the great opportunities that they provide.

“We’ve spent a significant amount of time out in the business community educating them about the flight,” he explained, “and trying to put them in touch with Aer Lingus to hopefully provide commitments to the airline for use of the service. Because if that support is not there, it’s going to be very difficult to make this flight work.”

Plane Speaking

As mentioned earlier, while they were talking from much different perspectives, Butler and Dillon used markedly similar language about the service set to start Sept. 28.

They both used the phrase ‘this makes perfect sense’ when talking about the flights, and for good reason. They add another dimension to the growth strategies for both organizations and open the door to new opportunities.

Not only to the airport and the airline — but the region and its diverse business community.

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

Daily News

NORTHAMPTON — The state Legislature’s Joint Committee on Tourism, Arts, and Cultural Development continues its 2016 listening tours across the state in Hampshire County on Monday, May 9, beginning with a public hearing at 10 a.m. at the UMass Fine Art Center Concert Hall.

This listening tour is part of a statewide series headed by state Sen. Eric Lesser and State Rep. Cory Atkins, committee co-chairs. Legislators from the committee and representatives from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism, and the Hampshire County Regional Tourism Committee will join community members, artists, and local business owners to discuss the economic impact the arts, culture, and tourism have on Hampshire County.

“We’re very excited to welcome members of the committee to Hampshire County again,” said Suzanne Beck, executive director of the Northampton Chamber of Commerce and director of the Hampshire County Regional Tourism Council. The committee visited Hampshire County in April 2014. “This is a great opportunity for our industry members to speak directly to their representatives about the good work they’re doing and thank them for the critical financial support we’ve received from the Legislature.”

Tourism is the third-largest revenue-producing industry in the Commonwealth. In 2014, domestic and international visitors spent $19.5 billion in the state. Statewide, the tourism industry employs 132,000 people. Visitors — defined as people who travel from more than 50 miles away — spent nearly $146 million in Hampshire County alone and support 870 jobs. An additional 3,300 jobs are dependent on tourism spending. More than 60% of these jobs come from independent artists and promoters, agents, performing-arts venues, and museums. The tourism industry has grown 20% in the last decade.

Sections Travel and Tourism

Plane Speaking

Janice Webb

Janice Webb says that the strong dollar, coupled with a desire among Baby Boomers to see the world, is the prevailing force when it comes to travel in 2016.

Janice Webb says three area couples put down their deposit for a trip to Paris for next April on the morning of Nov. 13, just hours before news of the terrorist attacks across the City of Light first broke on CNN.

Webb, owner of Emerald City Travel in Springfield, circled back with the group the next day to see if they had any questions or concerns — or intentions to change their travel plans.

They had some of the former, certainly, but none of the latter, she told BusinessWest, adding that the prevailing attitude was that, while the attacks that killed 130 people were alarming, they were not enough to prompt cancellation of a trip, which would continue with a river cruise to Amsterdam, that those involved have been looking forward to for most of their lives.

“They all e-mailed back and said, ‘let’s do this and hope for the best,’ and that appears to be the common sentiment,” said Webb, a 30-year industry veteran who noted that the various forms of turmoil in Europe are colliding head on with a potent package — a weak euro combined with a powerful desire among retiring Baby Boomers and others to get out and see the world, or at least the homes of their ancestors.

The latter is, by and large, the much stronger force at the moment.

“People want to travel, and they’re not going to let this stop them,” she said, using ‘this’ to describe the sum of the international and domestic turmoil. “They’re going to be more cautious, certainly, but they’re still going to travel.”

Paul O’Meara agreed. He’s the business development manager for the Globus family of travel brands, which includes Avalon Waterways, Cosmos, and Monograms. He told BusinessWest that, since 9/11, and even moreso in recent years, international travelers have adapted to what he called a “new norm.”

Roughly translated, this equates to expectations — for longer lines and tighter security at airports, armed soldiers at many popular tourist destinations in Europe, and, yes, possible incidents involving terrorism.

“People are more experienced now, they know what to expect, and they’re more aware of their safety and more aware of their surroundings,” he said, adding that such travelers would certainly take notice of the recent global travel alert issued by the U.S. State Department (in effect until February), but they would not be intimidated or frozen by it. “This is not 1985 or 1965; travelers are more sophisticated now, and they’ve adjusted to this new norm.”

As for the attacks in France’s capital city and their impact on travel there, he summed things up with a line he would utter more than a few times.

“Paris is Paris — there’s a reason why 30 million people go there every year,” he said, adding that his company books more visits to that city than any other except Rome. “We have about 500,000 people booked on various trips to Paris, and fewer than a dozen have cancelled.”

But an attitude of defiance when it comes to not letting terrorism get in the way of a long-planned, long-dreamed-about trip to Europe also extends to Berlin, London, Venice, Belgium (despite the fact that Brussels was locked down for several days last month), and, to a lesser extent, Istanbul, although some cruise lines and travel companies are changing some itineraries in Turkey.

“The knee-jerk reaction to what happened in Paris or in Brussels is that people aren’t going to travel there,” said O’Meara. “But that’s not what’s happening.”

For this issue and its focus on travel and tourism, BusinessWest looks at how recent events are spawning concern, but they’re not keeping travelers from reaching their destination — whatever that might be.

Cruise Control

As he talked about travel to Europe and why he doesn’t expect it to be seriously dented by the attacks in Paris and other terrorist actions in that part of the world, O’Meara started his explanation by detailing one of his company’s current offerings.

It’s a package known as ‘Italian Vista,’ and it features eight days with stops in cities like Rome, Florence, Milan, and Venice, and includes hotel stays, meals, and guided tours. The price this fall was an already-attractive $1,999, and for next year, it’s a jaw-dropping $1,449.

“That’s all due to the weak euro and the attractive exchange rates,” he told BusinessWest, adding that such sticker prices on trips across the continent help explain why bookings for 2016 are running roughly 13% ahead of the pace for last year, despite the attacks in Paris, the bomb that brought down a Russian airliner, the refugee crisis, and other forms of turmoil.

“This is the time to book, and people are doing it,” he said. “The prices are attractive, the dollar is strong … these are great opportunities, and people don’t want to miss out on them.”

the City of Light

The terrorist attacks in Paris were unnerving, but thus far, they do not appear to be a deterrent for those making plans to visit the City of Light.

That’s not to say that the terrorist attacks in Paris are not having an impact in that city or others. Indeed, the general manager of the Palace Hotel Park Hyatt Paris-Vendome and Park Hyatt’s vice president for France recently told The New York Times, “Naturally, occupancy is drastically decreasing in the wake of the attacks … we noticed a lot of cancellations right after the attacks for the following days and weeks, with the decrease more significant on bookings from the leisure traveler segment than the business one.”

But overall, O’Meara says travelers are simply pausing before traveling to Paris and other destinations, and the sentiment within the travel industry is that they won’t be pausing for long, unless there are more incidents.

Webb agreed. She said fall is the time when travel companies put out deals designed to fill cruise ships and hotels for the coming season, and thus far, travelers have not been shy about snapping them up.

“They offer these deals, which include airfare sales, percentage discounts, and past-passenger discounts, to get the product rolling,” she said, adding that these discounts are typical of what’s been offered the past several years. “And I’ve had a lot of people make reservations starting the first week in October; it’s been steady since, and it’s mostly European product.”

She said there are many factors at play when it comes to the ongoing surge in international travel — and travel in general. They include the strong dollar, which is now worth almost as much as a euro, when three years ago the rate was almost 1.4 dollars to the euro.

But there’s more to the equation. Bad winters, especially the one in 2015, have promoted many to conclude that, to endure such punishment, they need to break it up with a week or 10 days someplace warm, usually coinciding with February school vacation.

Adventure-packed destinations are still very much in vogue, which means Costa Rica is still hot, said Webb, adding quickly that many people young and old have already been there and done that, and now, most are just looking for a good deal and a good beach.

Then there are the aging Baby Boomers, many of them with disposable income, and others as well, who want to visit places they’ve heard about or the country their family calls home.

For many in this region, that means Italy or Ireland. “It seems like there’s lots of Irish and Italians in the Springfield area,” said Webb, who is booking lots of trips to both countries.

But there is still another factor in all this, she went on, noting that, overall, events like those that took place in Paris have only a temporary impact on travel — if other conditions are favorable, such as the economy — and usually not a deep impact.

An exception to that rule was 9/11, Webb added quickly, noting that the industry suffered greatly as business was frozen by uncertainty. But even then, there were groups and individuals who were undaunted and determined to seize opportunities.

“People were generally fearful at first,” she said of the days and weeks following 9/11. “But there’s one contingent of people who travel right away because they know the prices are going to be low, and they’re going to book the bargains. And then, a second contingent of people come right behind them, because they’re just tired of not doing what they want to do, and at that point, they perceive the risk to be worth taking to see what they want to see or live the way they want to live.”

Whether this pattern continues in the wake of this tumultuous fall remains to be seen, but all indications are that it will.

But while travelers will be undaunted, for the most part, they will also be more cautious, Webb predicted. She predicted that some may opt to travel with a group rather than visiting a city or region on their own, which is good for cruise-ship lines and tour operators.

Meanwhile, others may seek out destinations deemed to be safe, or at least safer.

“Sometimes a travel warning like this will push people to cruising,” Webb explained, “because if a port is deemed unsafe, the cruise line won’t go there; they’ll just substitute another port, and so people feel confident that, if the cruise lines go there, it’s a safe place to go.”

Not Tripped Up

Even within the confines of that ‘new norm’ O’Meara described, the terrorist attacks in Paris were certainly unsettling — for travelers and the travel industry.

Thus far, though, it appears that the package of attractive fares, a strong dollar, a desire among Boomers to see the world, and ‘Paris being Paris’ is creating opportunities well worth the sum of the risks involved.

Like those three local couples bound for Paris next spring, people are booking, and hoping for the best.

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

Sections Travel and Tourism

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

AWDS5Neighborhood-Overview

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.”

Opinion
Cutting Tourism Dollars Isn’t the Answer

We understand that Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker has a huge budget deficit to close — more than $750 million, by most estimates — and we don’t intend to overanalyze his efforts to do so, because almost all budgets are unpopular — and debatable.

But his announced intentions to slash funding for both the Mass. Office of Travel and Tourism (from $14.2 million to $6.1 million) and the regional tourism councils (from $5 million to $500,000) represent a tack we wouldn’t recommend.

That’s because the tourism sector is becoming an increasingly important contributor to the state’s economic health and well-being, and it will be even more so in the years to come as the casinos currently on the drawing board open their doors to the millions expected to visit those resorts each year. And also because, in this sector, perhaps even more than in some others, you really do have to spend money to make money.

Already, state legislators who understand the importance of tourist dollars to the cities and towns they represen are casting serious doubt about whether the governor’s proposal will fly, and we hope they’re right in their assessments. Dollars spent to promote the state and individual regions like Greater Springfield, the Berkshires, or the Amherst-Northampton corridor are not so much expenditures as they are investments, and the new governor’s administration needs to recognize that and find another way to trim some $12 million from the budget.

In a way, we can understand the administration’s thinking with regard to tourism funding, especially given the dearth of attractive options when it comes to cutting the budget. After all, the Commonwealth’s major attractions and convention facilities are not exactly state secrets, and Internet-savvy site finders have a wealth of information at their disposal.

But as traditional sources of employment and economic vitality (especially manufacturing) have declined in recent years, competition for tourism dollars has become increasingly intense.

And in this environment, visibility is critically important. Even states and cities that have long been popular destinations, spots that one might think wouldn’t need to advertise — Florida, California, Hawaii, New York City, and Las Vegas all come to mind — have invested millions in keeping themselves front and center when it comes to the minds and wallets of tourists.

Such a mindset has created a good amount of momentum locally, especially with regard to conventions and meetings. Greater Springfield is an attractive — and reasonably priced —alternative for convention planners, and these assets have been a big factor in an increase in bookings in recent years.

And now, those pushing this area as a convention or meeting site have something more to sell — the resort casino that will soon be taking shape in Springfield’s South End.

That’s an attractive addition, one that has the potential to make this area a real player in that segment of the tourism industry and one that should open some doors that were previously closed.

But for that door to open all the way, this state and this region have to be able to promote themselves — and now. Indeed, many conventions are booked years in advance, and now is the time to strike.

As we said at the top, closing a $750 million budget gap will be difficult, and it’s easy to say ‘don’t cut here’ or ‘don’t cut there.’ But in the case of funding for the Office of Travel and Tourism and the individual convention and visitors bureaus, cuts now could have some serious consequences later.

Sections Travel and Tourism
Springfield Seeks State Designation for a Cultural District
Kay Simpson

Kay Simpson says creation of a cultural district will help Springfield brand its many attractions, while spurring economic development.

Evan Plotkin equated it to a business hanging out a sign that reads “under new management.”

Though he quickly acknowledged that the analogy isn’t perfect — the city hasn’t actually changed leadership at the top, and won’t for at least a few more years — he went ahead with it anyway, because he considers it an effective way to talk about what the creation of a cultural district in Springfield can and likely will do for the community.

“Business owners put out an ‘under new management’ sign on a restaurant, for example, when they want to change the dynamic,” said Plotkin, president of NAI Plotkin and a prime mover in ongoing efforts to revitalize and promote the city’s downtown. “They do it because they want people to know that something has changed, something’s different, something’s better — that people should want to come there again.”

Creating a cultural district can do very much the same thing for Springfield, he went on, noting that it will help the city brand itself and its many cultural attractions and, in many ways, give people a reason to give the community a look — or another look.

Kay Simpson agreed. She’s the vice president of Springfield Museums and one of the primary architects of a proposed cultural district that would cover several blocks downtown and include everything from the Armory Museum to the Paramount; from the Community Music School to the five museums in the Quadrangle; from Symphony Hall to the clubs on Worthington Street.

The formal application for creation of the district was sent to the Mass. Cultural Council (MCC) on Aug. 15, said Simpson, who literally knocked on some wood as she talked about what she considers decent odds that the city will join Pittsfield, Easthampton, Lowell, Gloucester, and other cities gaining state designation for a cultural district.

“This is a great tool for promoting the arts,” she said, adding that, beyond building awareness of the city’s attractions, creation of a cultural district will also better position the city for funding from such organizations as the National Endowment for the Arts, and also spur economic development. “A district can stimulate business, especially creative-economy businesses.”

Her optimism about the proposal’s chances is based on comments made by MCC officials who have walked the planned district already and provided input on the application and how it should be written, and also on the large volume of attractions and institutions packed into the multi-block area identified in the map to the right.

Springfield Cultural District Map loRes 5“It’s remarkable when you consider how many major cultural institutions are located in the downtown area,” she said. “This is not a huge geographic area, but there is a dense concentration of cultural assets.”

David Starr concurred. The president of the Republican and chair of the city’s Cultural Coordination Committee described the planned district as a “true gem,” and said its creation will provide new and potent opportunities to increase awareness of the city’s cultural amenities and build on that foundation.

“The problem has always been that these institutions never got the outside recognition that they deserved,” he explained, referring to the museums in the Quadrangle, the symphony, and other organizations. “A cultural district will help sell them and help brand them to not just the local area, but people outside this region.”

For this issue and its focus on travel and tourism, BusinessWest takes an in-depth look at the proposed cultural district and what its architects believe it can do for the city and its ongoing efforts to revitalize the downtown area.

 

Mapping Out a Strategy

The MCC’s Cultural Districts Initiative was authorized by an act of the state Legislature in 2010 and launched in 2011.

It was inspired by mounting evidence that thriving creative sectors stimulate economic development, said Simpson, noting that the prevailing theory has been that such districts attract artists, cultural organizations, and entrepreneurs, while helping specific communities create or strengthen a sense of place.

“By having the cultural-district designation, you’re creating an environment where all kinds of businesses can come into an area,” she explained. “These creative-economy businesses include everything from art galleries to graphic-design enterprises to coffee shops and restaurants.

“You’re creating a brand for a community,” she went on, “so that people from outside that community know that, if they go to the cultural district in Springfield, there’s going to be a lot for them to do. They can go to museums, see historic monuments and sites, and have lots to do in terms of both the visual arts and the performing arts.”

There are currently 17 cultural districts across the state, with more being proposed. They have been established in Barnstable, Boston, Cambridge, Concord, Easthampton, Essex, Gloucester (which has two), Lowell, Lynn, Marlborough, Natick, Orleans, Pittsfield, Rockport, Sandwich, and Shelburne Falls.

Springfield’s proposed cultural district would be bordered by East Columbus Avenue, Bliss Street, Stockbridge Street, High Street, Federal Street, Pearl Street, Dwight Street, Lyman Street, and Frank B. Murray Street, according to a prepared summary.

That section is home to number of cultural attractions and institutions, including the Springfield Armory National Historic Site, the Quadrangle, the historic Mattoon Street area, the MassMutual Center, Symphony Hall, CityStage, the Paramount, and the Community Music School, said Simpson, adding that it also includes several parks, some retail areas, and a number of restaurants, clubs, and hotels.

One of the required traits of a district, as set down by the MCC, is that it be walkable, said Simpson, noting that, while this comparatively large area — which officials originally thought might encompass two districts — constitutes a “good walk,” it meets that stipulation.

Most of the existing cultural districts have names that identify a specific neighborhood, landmark, or street. Easthampton’s, for example, is called the Cottage Street Cultural District, a nod to the many former mills and storefronts on that thoroughfare that have become home to arts-related businesses and agencies. Meanwhile, Lowell’s Canalway District takes its name from an historic section of that former textile-manufacturing center, which has also become a center for the cultural community, and spotlights the city’s most enduring character trait — its canals.

Those leading the drive for Springfield’s district recently ran a contest to name it; submissions are currently being weighed by a panel of judges, and a winner is to be announced soon.

By whatever name the district takes, it is expected to become a point of reference for Springfield, a vehicle for branding the City of Homes, and a source of momentum as the community seeks to build its creative economy and, overall, bring vibrancy to a long-challenged section of the city, said Plotkin.

In a big-picture sense, the broad goal behind the cultural district is to change the conversation about Springfield, he went on, adding that, in recent years, most of the talk has been about financial struggles (the city was run by a control board for several years), crime, poverty, and high dropout rates in the city’s high schools.

“This cultural district will build a sense of community,” he noted. “It will help break down some of those walls that people have about Springfield, including the sense that we’re a broken city with low self-esteem.

“We have to break out of that and build some pride and some community,” he went on. “We have to start doing things that will really change the city, and I believe a cultural district will do that. Doing this can help to start changing the conversation about Springfield and about what we really are culturally and what we have here.”

It can also help make a community more visible — and attractive — to those looking for landing spots for a company or sites for everything from day trips to meetings and conventions, said Simpson, who said creation of a cultural district in Boston’s Fenway area has apparently done all that.

“In the Fenway, they’ve said they have seen an increase in occupancy rates in office buildings and storefronts since the cultural district was created,” she said, noting that the area, home to several museums and other attractions, is in many ways similar to downtown Springfield. “Meanwhile, it has created for them the sense that they’re more recognized in terms of gaining political support.”

 

Sign of the Times

Springfield will probably find out sometime this fall if its proposal for a cultural district has been accepted by the MCC, said Simpson.

If all goes as those behind this initiative believe it will, then the city will soon have a new vehicle for marketing itself and perhaps making some real progress in ongoing efforts to change some of the perceptions about the community.

In other words, the ‘under new management’ sign can go on the door. It will then be up the city to make the most of that development. n

 

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

 

Cover Story Sections Travel and Tourism
Holyoke’s Happiness Machine Marks a Milestone

CoverBW-0513bThe Holyoke Merry-Go-Round marks 20 years in operation at Heritage Park this December.
Thus, this is a time of reflection and celebration in Holyoke, concerning both the remarkable story of how residents and businesses in the city rallied to keep the attraction within the community, and the success enjoyed since: more than 1 million riders, hundreds of events staged at the facility, restoration of nearly half the ride’s hand-crafted wooden horses, and the creation of untold memories for generations of area residents.
There will be many opportunities to rejoice and look back this year, with the highlight being a huge fund-raising gala at the Log Cabin Banquet and Meeting House on Sept. 19, an event that is expected to severely test the facility’s fire-code capacity.
But for those most closely involved with this landmark, known to them as PTC 80 (the 80th carousel built by the Philadelphia Toboggan Co.), this is a time for much more than celebrating — although they will do plenty of that. It’s an occasion to do some strategic planning and take important steps that will ensure there are many more anniversaries to celebrate down the road.
And it’s a time, said Angela Wright, to do some difficult, yet very necessary, succession planning when it comes to management of what those in the city call the ‘happiness machine.’

HolyokeMerryGoRound

Friends of PTC 80, as it’s called, will mark its milestone anniversary with an eye toward ensuring that there are more of these celebrations for decades to come.

Difficult, noted Wright, who was co-chair of the group that raised the money to keep the carousel in Holyoke and has been its volunteer director since it opened, because that’s the only word to describe what it will be like to “let go.”
“We’re reluctant to give up something that is close to all of us, and something that we worked so hard at —  it’s been a labor of love for all of us,” she said, referring to a strong corps of volunteers that has been with this project from the beginning and seen some of their ranks pass away in recent years. “We don’t want to let go of this, but it’s something we know we have to do.”
Elaborating, she said the Friends of the Holyoke Merry-Go-Round, as this group is called, is engaging in discussions about hiring a full-time executive director for the facility, an individual who will assume many duties currently carried out by those volunteers, from fund-raising to marketing, while also taking on the primary assignment — maintaining the relationships that have enabled this city treasure to survive and thrive, and creating new ones.
Hiring a director is one of many suggestions forwarded during strategic planning sessions staged recently with a consultant, Jeff Hayden, former city development director and current director of the Kittredge Center, said Maureen Costello, administrative manager of PTC 80.
Others include everything from recruiting additional board members to developing and implementing a marketing plan; from multi-faceted efforts to increase visitation to a host of initiatives to increase revenues, especially the scheduling of more birthday parties and other events.
These steps are in various, but mostly early, stages of implementation, said Costello, noting that one important step — a doubling of the price of a ride to $2 after more than 18 years — was undertaken in 2012.
“That was a difficult decision for us, because we had prided ourselves on keeping the ticket price at a dollar since we opened in 1993,” she explaned. “But it’s been very well-received by our visitors; many people said, ‘it’s about time you did this.’”
There will be more difficult and far-reaching steps taken in the months and years to come, said Jim Jackowski, business liaison and customer service and credit manager for Holyoke Gas & Electric and current president of the Friends board. He noted that, while the attraction’s first two decades in operation could be deemed an unqualified success, these are tenuous times for independently operated carousels like this one.
The challenges are many, and include everything from the high cost of insurance (carousels have historically had high mishap rates, although this one hasn’t recorded any) to the escalating competition for the time of young children (the ride’s lifeblood) and their parents.
“There are just a lot more things for kids and families to do today,” said Jackowski. “We have to respond to that by promoting ourselves and doing what we’ve always done — providing a truly unique experience.”
Wright agreed. “Many carousels are closing — hardly a week goes that we don’t hear of one of them shutting down,” she said, noting that she and others read about such casualties in industry publications like the Carousel News & Trader and Merry-Go-Round Roundup. “These things are becoming very expensive … our liability insurance is extremely high. Between insurance, staffing, maintenance, upkeep, promotions, and marketing, they’re becoming simply too expensive for many operators to run.”
For this issue and its focus on travel and tourism, BusinessWest takes a quick look back at how PTC 80 remained a Holyoke institution, but a more comprehensive glance ahead to the challenge of making sure the happiness machine will be there to create memories for future generations of area residents.

Turns for the Better

‘Middle horse #5’

‘Middle horse #5’ is next in line for a complete restoration. To date, nearly half of the horses on the carousel have been refurbished.

It’s known simply as ‘middle horse #5.’ And that says it all — if you know this carousel.
It has three rows of horses (there are 28 in all, both ‘standers’ and ‘jumpers,’ with two chariots), with the largest animals on the outside and the smallest on the inside. This particular specimen is fifth in a sequence known only to those intimately involved with this attraction. And it is showing some definite signs of wear and tear, much of it caused by the buckle on the stirrup, which has knocked off badly faded paint in several areas.
As a result, it is next in line for restoration work that will make it look like the much shinier and newer ‘middle horse #4’ just ahead. This work, to be carried out at the New England Carousel Museum in Bristol, Conn., will cost roughly $5,000, said Costello. To help pay that cost, the merry-go-round is staging a raffle this summer, with the winner gaining the right to give the horse a real name — like ‘Lancelot,’ ‘Flower Power,’ and others that have been assigned to other animals on PTC 80.
Restoring horses, staging raffles, and giving names to the stars of this attraction have been some of the many aspects of that labor of love which Wright described, made possible by the truly inspiring story of how Holyoke came together to keep its carousel a quarter-century ago.
Most in this region are now at least somewhat familiar with the saga, which began with Mountain Park owner Jay Collins’ decision to shut down the popular tourist attraction after the 1987 season ended.
After unsuccessful efforts to sell the park, the 300 acres it sat on, and all the equipment and inventory as one package (asking price: $4 million), Collins opted to start selling off the pieces. He had some attractive offers (up to $2 million, according to some accounts) for PTC 80, which was in extremely good condition. And while he was considering them, John Hickey, then manager of Holyoke’s Water Department, approached him with a plan to keep the carousel in the city.
The two agreed on a price of $875,000, and Collins gave Hickey one year to raise the money.
The rest, is, well, history.
An elaborate ‘save the merry-go-round’ campaign was launched, complete with a request for pledges with rhetorical calls to action that included ‘stop them from riding off with Holyoke’s mane attraction’ and ‘if you care about Holyoke’s future, put some money down on her past.’
In the end, residents, business owners, and schoolchildren heeded those calls, raising enough money to buy the carousel and build it a new home in Heritage State Park. Thus, PTC 80’s second life began in December 1993.
To say that it’s been a smooth ride since then would oversimplify things, said Wright, who noted that there have been many challenges over the first two decades, from getting people to come to downtown Holyoke to attracting revenue-generating events, such as birthday parties and weddings, to overcoming the loss several years ago of the four-day Celebrate Holyoke event that gave the carousel much-needed exposure and ridership.
“The real business challenge for us has been to replace the revenue from the Celebrate Holyoke festival, which was probably 10% to 15% of our annual revenue,” said Jackowski. “We’ve done it largely through the promotion of the birthday parties, the private functions, and the corporate functions, and spreading the word through an extended Pioneer Valley area.”
The attraction has managed to remain in the black throughout and meet its annual budget of roughly $100,000, he noted, largely through perseverance, imagination, and resourcefulness.
But if PTC 80, one of only 100 antique classic wooden merry-rounds still operating in North America, is to keep its Holyoke address, it must continue to act as a small business would, and that means strategic planning and, as Wright and Costello said, succession planning.

Round Numbers
That later assignment is a difficult one for many small businesses to even acknowledge, let alone address, said Wright, adding that it’s the same with the merry-go-round, where this exercise takes a number of forms.
For starters, it means active recruiting of younger professionals within the community to join the board and become involved with the carousel, she said, adding that a new generation of leadership must eventually take the reins — literally and figuratively — from the group that waged the campaign to save PTC 80 a quarter-century ago.
Succession planning also means developing and advancing a plan to hire a full-time executive director, said Costello, adding that the merry-go-round has a part-time operations manager (15 hours per week), and there are others who have held that position in the past.
Hiring a full-time manager would be a big step, one that would dramatically alter the budgetary picture, Wright told BusinessWest, but such a move is necessary given the current challenging climate. But the broad “transition,” as she called it, will nonetheless be difficult for the carousel’s older ‘friends.’
“We’ve all been here 25 years,” she said. “And we’re all somewhat reluctant to let anything happen to this merry-go-round. We all have a personal investment in this, and it’s a sizable investment.”
Succession planning is just part of the discussion when it comes to securing the long-term future of the merry-go-round, said Costello, adding that strategic planning initiatives involving the attraction, like those staged for businesses of all sizes, have focused on that acronym SWOT — strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.
Clearly, the 20th-anniversary celebrations fall into that third category, she said, adding that the attraction’s leadership intends to use the many events and special programs on tap this year to introduce (or re-introduce) people to the carousel, with several goals in mind. These include everything from increasing direct ridership to booking more special events involving both children and adults; from recruiting more supporters to simply raising more funds.
“The 20th anniversary is a time to reflect on the many things that we’ve accomplished here and be proud of those accomplishments,” Costello said. “But it’s also an opportunity to re-connect with our supporters and make more friends.
“We recognize that, while our merry-go-round was the crown jewel at Mountain Park, the people who remember the park are older now,” she went on. “We understand that those people are not going to be able to share their memories of Mountain Park, so we need to attract a new generation of riders and supporters, and we’re cognizant of that as we make our plans for the future.”
As it did 25 years ago, the Friends group is reaching out to the community for donations, she said, adding that donors can become members of the merry-go-round’s Ring of Honor, a collection of brass plaques that bear the names of supporters ranging from Holyoke schoolchildren to businesses across all sectors.
Beyond fund-raising, one of the main goals moving forward is to maximize other revenue resources, said Costello, adding that the increase in ticket prices resulted in a roughly 70% increase in total revenue in 2012, “which made a huge difference.”
But long-term, the merry-go-round must be more successful with scheduling events, she continued, because they are both solid revenue generators and vehicles for generating future ridership and more get-togethers.
Overall, the ongoing assignment for the merry-go-round’s leadership team is to make the attraction — and downtown Holyoke in general — more of a true destination for families with children, said Jackowski, adding that there are many developments that are moving the city closer to that designation.
“We hope, by keeping this building as attractive as it is, and this park as attractive as it is, that the future looks bright,” he told BusinessWest. “We have our new neighbor, the computing center, we’re hopeful that the canal walk comes to fruition in the next five years, and there is more development down here that creates optimism. We want to be the focal point of all that.”

The Ride Stuff
John Hickey, who passed away in 2008, once wrote of carousels, “man, and high tech, has not yet devised a better way to illuminate the faces of children and parents with pure joy. The lights, the music, the kids dashing for the right horse, the clang of the starting bell, and the motion … you don’t really understand human nature unless you know why a child on a merry-go-round will wave every time around … and their parent will wave back. It never fails … it never will.”
PTC 80 has lived up to those words for more than eight decades, and especially in its new home in Holyoke’s downtown. Its first two decades there have been an extraordinary ride in every sense of that word.
And that’s why this anniversary will be a time to celebrate, but also a time to make sure that the ride will continue for decades to come.

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

Sections Travel and Tourism
Robert E. Barrett Fishway Offers Learning Experiences on a Grand Scale

Paul Ducheney

Paul Ducheney says the fishway was the culmination of years of study involving fish behavior, as well as considerable trial and error.

Paul Ducheney acknowledged that it’s difficult to look upon the elaborate, cutting-edge Frank E. Barrett Fishway and grasp that it was inspired by a net and a bucket.
But it was. Well, sort of.
As legend has it in Holyoke, in 1955, an Atlantic salmon was trying to make its way north on the Connecticut River, back to its birthplace to spawn, when it hit what was then a roadblock — the Holyoke Dam. The story goes that an engineer with what was then the Holyoke Water Power Co. caught the confused fish with said net, but then didn’t know what to do with it.
“So they said, ‘well, lets put it in a bucket of water and bring it up over the dam and dump it in,’” explained Ducheney, superintendent for Electric Production at the Holyoke Gas & Electric Department (HG&E), which acquired the dam in 2001. “And that was pretty much the start.”
Today’s Robert E. Barrett Fishway is the result of that ongoing story of how, through the use of exponentially more sophisticated means of fish attraction and larger buckets, HG&E has created a fishlift that has become a model for hydropower systems in this country and around the world.
The two-bucket system carries hundreds of thousands of anadromous fish — those born in fresh water (salmon, smelt, shad, striped bass, and sturgeon are common examples), and spend most of their life in the sea, but return to fresh water to spawn — over the dam each year so they continue their migratory journey north.
And while doing so, it provides powerful lessons to visitors, many of them schoolchildren on field trips, about these fish, hydropower, and how they can coexist.
This was the dream of Robert E. Barrett, former president of the Holyoke Water Power Co., whose imagination and perseverance made it reality.
The current fishway, opened in 1955, hosts more than 11,000 visitors a year between April and June, when the fish make their annual treks north, said Kate Sullivan, marketing coordinator for the HG&E, who told BusinessWest that the facility is still far too much of a best-kept secret from a tourism perspective, and that the utility is working to see that it loses that distinction.
“People are always amazed; they can’t believe this is in their own backyard,” said Sullivan. “And this was part of Robert Barrett’s mission, to make this an educational experience for kids, too.”
For this issue and its focus on travel and tourism, BusinessWest paid a visit to the fishway for an educational experience on a grand scale — in more ways than one.

Current Events

This illustration shows how the fishway

This illustration shows how the fishway enables migratory shad, Atlantic salmon, and other species to be collected, lifted in buckets over the dam, and released.
Illustration by Robert Oxenhorn

As she gave BusinessWest a tour of the facilities, Sullivan said the creation of such facilities to ferry fish over hydroelectric installations became a federal mandate for those seeking to hold licenses for such facilities decades ago, and there are many such lifts operating today.
But the fishway in Holyoke is somewhat unique because of the breadth and depth of the educational opportunities it provides and the large scale of the operation. Indeed, it is said to be most successful fishlift on the Atlantic coast in terms of the number of fish it ferries.
For visitors, it’s an opportunity to see how nature and modern technology can collaborate and create some powerful images.
Once through the entrance of the power station, visitors are led — on the right, past the giant HG&E turbines that harness the river’s power, and, on the left, past a series of historical pictures of the dam and older fish-assisting devices — out to the large outdoor observation deck. Standing high above the Connecticut River on the deck, they get a southern view of the river and the special canal, which shows the two ways fish enter the gathering area by way of a high-velocity water flow that attracts them to the main collection area just under the deck.
Visitors can then turn their attention to the north and experience the sights and sounds of water coming over a section of the dam, next to the lift structure. On the half-hour, a buzzer rings, signaling the start of the fishlift as its two large buckets begin carrying hundreds of fish and water more than 50 feet up and into an exit flume. This is the point where visitors then move inside to see the fish swim by the public viewing windows, giving them the feeling of being underwater with the fish.
Sullivan told BusinessWest that guided school-group tours take about an hour, which includes time for an activity.
“And this is very unique,” added Ducheney. “If you go to other lifts at other dams, they’re sort of separate from the powerhouse, so it’s pretty neat to see power generation integral with fish passage. It’s Holyoke’s best-kept secret.”
But that secret took some time to materialize.
Kate Sullivan

Kate Sullivan says grassroots efforts have helped increase visitorship at the fishway, which is open only a few months a year.

Dams have been built to harness hydropower for centuries, and attempts to help fish on their migratory journeys have been part and parcel to those efforts, but finding a system that works effectively has often been a frustrating matter of trial and considerable error, said Ducheney, noting that Holyoke’s history serves up some good examples.
Since 1794, several dams have been constructed at South Hadley Falls, where the river drops more than 40 feet, and in October 1849, a large ‘timber crib’ dam was constructed, preventing upstream fish migration.
In 1866, Massachusetts enacted legislation requiring the construction of devices to permit passage of shad and salmon, which resulted in the first wooden fish ladder in 1873 — a system designed to replicate nature — on the South Hadley side of the river. However, the ladder was off the beaten path of the fish’s instinctual travels, said Ducheney, and fish passage didn’t go well; in fact, not one fish used any of the early ladders.
In 1900, the current, much larger dam made from Vermont stone was built, and in 1949, HWP received a license from the Federal Power Commission for the Holyoke Hydroelectric Project. As part of the license, HWP was required to “construct, maintain, and operate fish-protection devices.”
Soon after, the aforementioned lucky Atlantic salmon was saved and lifted over the dam. The stiffer federal mandate had engineers building a different type of fish passage because others hadn’t worked. More research into fish behavior resulted in the reason why: fish needed to sense the sound and current of rushing water on their journey, where a dam now stood. The solution was to create a gathering area by way of a high-velocity water flow that attracts the fish to the main collection area just under the deck, and the first lift, using a bucket in 1955, was built under Robert Barrett’s direction — the first successful fishlift in the country.
“It’s very important for the ecosystem,” Ducheney noted. “From a regulatory basis, today we have a mandate from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to operate the dam, and part of the conditions is to provide for safe and effective fish passage.”
Today, fish can continue upstream migration (if they’re not collected for hatcheries), where fishways further upstream at the smaller Turners Falls, Vernon, and Bellows Falls hydroelectric projects also provide a means to enhance passage for migrating species through a simpler elevated step process.

Hook, Line, and Sinker
When HG&E purchased the Holyoke Dam to operate the hydroelectric facilities and the Holyoke Canal System, more improvements were made to the fishlift, Ducheney explained to BusinessWest.
“It’s automated now, so it runs without operator intervention, and it’s tripled in size, so we can accommodate many more fish,” said Ducheney. “In fact, this lift has become a model for others, including the Susquehanna River and in Japan, China, Brazil, and European countries. Holyoke is pretty well-known for fish passage.”
And the fishlift is a first for something else that’s important.
“Literally, every fish is counted,” said Sullivan, noting that the Holyoke Dam is the first that fish encounter as they move north from Long Island Sound, so keeping accurate inventory is critical to tracking what happens to fish before and after they get to the Paper City.
The counters are biology students from Holyoke Community College who click a designated counter for each species of fish in a special viewing room just past the public viewing windows; its another form of educational experience of which Barrett would be proud.
Since the official counts started in 1965, the most prolific years for fish passage were in 1985 and 1992, at more than 1 million fish. In 2012, more than 500,000, mainly shad, were lifted over the dam.
Shad, said Ducheney, is a river herring, and while that may not sound delectable, he noted that shad is actually on the menu at New York’s famous Tavern on the Green restaurant at this time of year.
But restaurants aren’t the only interested parties when it comes to shad. The annual HG&E Shad Derby, one of the region’s largest fishing events, is held on two weekends in May and offers nearly 600 anglers of all ages the opportunity to win cash prizes and write plenty of their own fish stories as they enjoy the recreational benefits of the Connecticut River.
Marketing funds are tight, Sullivan said, so getting the word out about the fishway is a struggle. But thanks to HG&E’s newsletter to 18,000 customers, as well as more comprehensive grassroots efforts over the past couple of years to increase awareness of the facility, visitation has increased.
In just a short window of six weeks, from late April to mid-June, more than 11,000 visitors came through the fishlift last year, 2,000 more than in 2011, said Sullivan, noting that many of them are students from across the region.
The fishlift is open Wednesday through Sunday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., until June 16, due to the spawning season each spring. Also open on Memorial Day, the facility offers visitors of all ages a unique combination of science through tourism, and a chance to tell a real fish story about the ones that got away — or at least further upstream.

Elizabeth Taras can be reached at  [email protected]