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Taking the local tour

Recorder/Paul Franz
People, including Rep. Paul Mark at right, leave The Farm Table Restaurant at Kringle Candle on Friday.

Recorder/Paul Franz People, including Rep. Paul Mark at right, leave The Farm Table Restaurant at Kringle Candle on Friday.

TURNERS FALLS — Four members of the state Legislature’s tourism committee literally got a taste of Franklin County Friday, as well as a look at tourist attractions as part of a two-day swing as the fall foliage season gets under way.

They also got an earful, as part of a public hearing at Great Falls Discovery Center before taking off for lunch at Kringle Candle, checking out the zip line at Zoar Outdoor and touring Shelburne Falls.

A key theme from representatives of businesses and organizations who came before the Joint Committee on Tourism, Arts and Cultural Development during the two-hour session was a need for collaboration and creative thinking to encourage visitors, since funding pressure is tight and neighboring states compete heavily for tourism business.

But speakers, who came from Adams, Leominster and everywhere in between, tried to convey to committee members that they need help encouraging more visitors. The hearing, hosted by the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce, Mohawk Trail Association and Johnny Appleseed Trail Association, drew comments from those seeking future support, or simply wanted to make them aware of the wealth of environmental beauty and cultural resources in the region.

Tourism, as the third largest economic sector in the state, represents a tremendous potential for increasing the region’s economic base, said Rep. Denise Andrews, D-Orange, who along with Rep. Paul Mark, D- Peru, are the two area members of the panel.

“The area needs more investment of state funds,” said Andrews, although she also emphasized that given tighter fiscal realities, there is a need for a common vision, collaboration and a shared responsibility for promotion of our region.

Tourism is up in Massachusetts since the recession, with economic activity increased 2.5 percent in 2012, said Lisa Simmons of Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism. In Franklin County, that translated into $58 million in revenue and over 250 jobs.

“For a county that’s very rural, that says a lot,” said Simmons. “These are the counties that international tourists are really interested in. They don’t just want to start in the Boston area. They want to go around Massachusetts and find things that are authentic about Massachusetts, and we’re finding that among domestic travelers as well.”

Among those authentic treasures, as described by speakers Friday, are a “dinosaur trail” from Gill to Springfield, developed by Deerfield’s Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association, a Susan B. Anthony Birthplace museum in Adams, a proposed 46-acre “Nolumbeka Project” historic tourism site in Turners Falls around the 12,000-year-old Native American gathering place, a 160-mile-loop “Q and M” Trail linking Quabbin Reservoir with the existing Tully Trail as well as hiking systems in New Hampshire, the Museum of Our Industrial Heritage in Greenfield and more.

Since the committee’s purview extends to cultural tourism, the hearing also drew testimony from organizations like the 3,000-plus member Country Dance and Song Society, based in Florence, a $1.5 million, a 100-year-old organization that operates traditional dance camps and provides educational materials and networking for hundreds of traditional dance musicians and callers throughout the region.

Anita Walker, executive director of the Massachusetts Cultural Council, said, “These are not just Massachusetts treasures, these are our nation’s treasures. The international visitors don’t just come to Boston. Double Edge Theater? That’s internationally known. Historic Deerfield … and the cultural resources in this region of Massachusetts, they’re known all over the country and all over the world.”

Tim Neumann of Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association, referred to as “the oldest cultural organization in Western Mass., said his “edu-tourism” nonprofit brought in a $1,000 arts lottery grant for a new “Skilled Hands and High Ideals” exhibit that helped bring in money from as far away as Lichtenstein, and that the organization recently attracted teachers from as far away as Texas and Singapore.

Franklin Regional Council of Governments Executive Director Linda Dunlavy pointed to the collaborative effort around all of Western Massachusetts to develop a new, unified “Massachusetts Scenic Byways” marketing initiative, and pointed to $73 million in planned rail improvements linking the Pioneer Valley with Connecticut and Vermont as an opportunity to market the region.

“We encourage Massachusetts to partner with Amtrak on programs that are currently done in Maine and Vermont,” she said.

Dunlavy also pointed out that with the state’s plan to have gambling casinos developed in the state, “Let’s work together collectively to get people away from the slot machines and out to all of these wonderful assets that we’ve heard about this morning.”

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

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