Editorial: A new lease on life for Charlemont
Charlemont doesn’t want to be counted among the dead or dying towns of the rustbelt Northeast.
Like many of its neighbors in western Massachusetts, the loss of manufacturing and other jobs as well as other economic changes in the area over time, has taken a toll on the community. Fewer employment opportunities means fewer people looking to move to town ... or residents deciding to move elsewhere to find work.
That trend has had an impact on the town’s tax base, school enrollment, the number of people available to fill volunteer positions, etc.
The decline, perhaps, is most noticeable in the village center, which more than a few residents describe as a “ghost town.”
What Charlemont is facing a familiar tale in the region.
But it’s a story that continues to be written, one that may provide other communities faced with a similar outlook hope, if not some kind blueprint to change direction.
For one thing, Charlemont is seeing a boom in the outdoor adventure business, thanks in good part to Berkshire East and Zoar Outdoor. The ski area, for example, has taken its most valuable asset — its location and its ski trails — and has found other ways to utilize them when the snow melts away. Adding a restaurant, bar, enlarging the lodge, along with the zip-line tours and other events — all points to reinvestment that draws people to town.
In addition, the owners have used the ridge itself as an asset by installing a wind turbine at the summit.
And the river continues to bring rafters, kayakers, tubers and fishermen to the area.
Other businesses — seeing how things are happening at these parts of town — are trying to take advantage of the increased traffic. This had to be part of thinking in the expansion of the Cold River Package Store ... adding a new cafe and market to the property. It is likely to have been part of what interested Greg Rowehl in opening a pizza place in town.
Clearly, there’s is a desire to have this be just the beginning. That’s why town officials and other residents are talking about overcoming the hurdles that are seen as hindering further redevelopment and growth in the village. This includes sewer and water and Internet broadband availability, as well as possible changes in zoning bylaws that can open some doors to mixed-use commercial/residential buildings.
Obviously, it’s going to take hard work within the community, as well as some investment. But there’s no reason to think that new life can’t be breathed into the village ... to allow Charlemont to quote Mark Twain and say, “The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”