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North Quabbin gets tourism boost

Wyatt Myers of Northampton and another fisherman set out on the Quabbin in the boats available for rent on Friday.  Recorder/Paul Franz

Wyatt Myers of Northampton and another fisherman set out on the Quabbin in the boats available for rent on Friday. Recorder/Paul Franz Purchase photo reprints »

ATHOL — You might not have thought of spending your next vacation in the North Quabbin, but there’s a growing effort to get you to consider doing so, or at least to visit.

For the second consecutive year, the new state budget includes $50,000 to market the North Quabbin Region, which through the years feels that being divided between Franklin and Worcester counties has made it a little harder for visitors to find.

The funding, “to promote a regional tourism council between the North Quabbin Chamber of Commerce and the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce,” allows the Athol-based chamber to hire a part-time visitors bureau based at its 251 Exchange St. office, as well as to contribute toward chamber staffing.

The effort has already resulted in printing nearly 50,000 copies of an updated brochure and distributing it to 400 locations around New England, from Fanueil Hall to Boston’s Yawkey Way Red Sox Store and Clarion Hotels, with tracking by a distribution agency to see where they are collected to analyze what kind of visitors to target, said David Small, visitors bureau director.

“There are really great resources that are under-appreciated in the region,” said Small, mentioning Harvard Forest Museum in Petersham, Starrett Museum in Athol and the Swift River Historical Society Museum in New Salem, as well as Quabbin Reservoir and Tully Lake and Tully Campground.

“We’d like to get the information to the people before they get here,” he said, adding that in addition to outdoor recreation and venues and services, there are a host of little-known resources like a disc golf course at Tully Lake and the “blue trail” waterway linking Athol and Orange on the Millers River.

With that in mind, the North Quabbin Chamber plans to launch a new, interactive website in coming weeks, complete with maps and calendars, and is also preparing to launch an electronic kiosk as part of a network of kiosks around the region. North Quabbin’s map is already included on the network, the closest one of which is at the Yankee Candle Museum in South Deerfield.

What could really boost the area, Small said, would be a 100-bed hotel and conference center planned as part of a North Quabbin Business Park in Athol that has received $1 million in state funding.

Chamber Director Mark Wright said the North Quabbin region has suffered from invisibility largely because of the 1960s-era Route 2A bypass that has encouraged Route 2 travelers to buzz by, as well as the state’s ambivalence about touting the Quabbin Reservoir for tourism.

Even though the region has worked at building recognition, through events like Orange’s annual Garlic and Arts Festival and annual Tractor and Engine Show, it’s also suffered because it lies along the border between the two counties, divided between two of the state’s 16 regional tourism councils — North Central and Franklin County — through which tourism promotion typically gets funded by the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism.

The pilot funding advocated by Rep. Denise Andrews, D-Orange, and Sen. Stephen Brewer, D-Barre, was designed to add capacity for the nine-town region as a tourism destination, said Andrews, while still allowing for the effort to be coordinated with others the Franklin County chamber.

“We want to synergize with the regional councils,” said Andrews. “We’ll be looking at harmonization to produce the best results and efficiencies.”

Travelers along Route 2 should see some of those coordination efforts this fall with a series of promotions celebrating the centennial of the Mohawk Trail. Among the benefits of a $56,210 state grant to create a unified marketing strategy for the anniversary celebration will be getting the Franklin County Community Development Corp., North Quabbin Chamber, Greater Shelburne Falls Area Business Association, Franklin County Chamber, Mohawk Trail Association and even the Williamstown Chamber of Commerce to collaborate on events, including a scarecrow contest.

On the Web: www.northquabbinwoods.org

You can reach Richie Davis at: rdavis@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, Ext. 269

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