Like famed 19th century writer and transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau, who “discovered around me an ocean of mist, which…shut out every vestige of the earth” atop Mount Greylock, J.K. Rowling found magic at Massachusetts’ highest peak. In her Harry Potter prequel Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Greylock’s summit is home to the Ilvermorny School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, which, as she writes, is “concealed from non-magic gaze by a variety of powerful enchantments, which sometimes manifest in a wreath of misty cloud.”
There’s no veiling the seduction of the Berkshires, however. Standing at the 1,554.1-mile mark of the northbound Appalachian Trail, 589.9 miles from the finish at Mount Katahdin in Maine, 3,489-foot Greylock crowns a diverse set of outstanding group products, offering 100-mile views with seasonal overnight for 34 people and event space for 80 people at its mountaintop 1938 Bascom Lodge.
To the south in the Pioneer Valley, historic Springfield provides a ready urban counterpart on the Connecticut River, now being enhanced by game-changing new investments. With world-class culture complementing their outdoor bounty, these Bay State beacons are clear choices for energizing the body as well as feeding the mind.
The wonderment continues in Western Massachusetts’ largest city, where 2017 will see the anticipated debut of The Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum at downtown’s Springfield Museums “Quadrangle.” Joining the four world-class museums of art, history and science that surround the existing Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden, the new venue, honoring native son Theodor Seuss Geisel, will feature an interactive exhibition, a re-creation of Geisel’s studio and other displays.
True to its brand mantra of “building excitement,” MGM Resorts International is investing approximately $950 million in the new MGM Springfield casino-resort.
Targeting a September 2018 opening, the mixed-use development, set on 14.5 acres in the city’s South End, will reportedly include a 250-room, four-star hotel with a spa, pool and roof deck, and 125,000 square feet of gaming space. Plans also call for a dining, retail and entertainment district with an eight-screen cinema, a bowling alley and an outdoor stage in a park-like setting.
“Known for its scenic beauty and rich mix of art and culture, Springfield and the Pioneer Valley continue to attract groups seeking outdoor adventure and inspiration,” said Mary Kay Wydra, president of the Greater Springfield CVB. “New projects like the Dr. Seuss Museum and MGM Springfield will only enhance our appeal for meetings and events.”
Complementing signature group venues such as the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and historic Springfield Armory, outdoor options in the Pioneer Valley include Connecticut River narrated tours, sunset entertainment cruises and private charters aboard The Lady Bea tour boat, which departs from Brunelle’s Marina in South Hadley about 14 miles north of the city. In Springfield’s North End, the Pioneer Valley Riverfront Club recreational facility offers rowing and dragon boat programs for youth and adults, plus bike, canoe, kayak and stand-up board rentals.
Overlooking the Springfield skyline, the MassMutual Center features more than 24,500 square feet of meeting space and an 8,000-seat arena. Owned by the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority, the MassMutual Center is within walking distance of downtown Springfield.
In Holyoke, also just north of Springfield, Dinosaur Footprints features a trail of some 130 tracks left in sandstone by two-legged carnivorous dinosaurs, dating back some 190 million years when the Connecticut River Valley was a subtropical swamp.
The property is one of 100-plus natural, cultural and heritage places across Massachusetts managed by the Trustees of Reservations. This year, the Trustees celebrates the 125th anniversary of its founding in 1891 as the world’s first land preservation organization.
Also in Holyoke, groups can observe community farming and stroll along the Connecticut River at the Trustees’ 25-acre Land of Providence, while 15 miles east of Springfield in Monson near the Connecticut border, the Trustees’ year-round Peaked Mountain offers hiking trails and panoramic views from its 1,227-foot summit.
Close to 20 Trustees’ sites dot the Berkshires, including Bartholomew’s Cobble in Sheffield, bordering Connecticut, where I began my three-day visit to the region this June.
Group programs at this National Historic Landmark site include guided canoe natural history tours of the nearby Housatonic River. Led by photographer Thaddeus Kubis, we learned about the river’s rich flora and fauna, as well as the ancient geology of the Cobble, originally an inland sea some 500 million years ago. Five miles of hiking trails include must-see Hurlburt’s Hill. Rising 1,000 feet to a 20-acre field, the hike yields mesmerizing views of the ancient Taconic and Berkshires ranges nearby, and Vermont peaks in the distance. Groups of up to 40 can arrange private functions at the visitor center, which features a natural history collection.
The site perfectly illustrates the “Life is Calling” slogan of the Berkshire Visitors Bureau, which recently merged with the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce and Berkshire Creative to form 1Berkshire. Focused on key markets including tourism, local homeowners and the creative economy, the unified brand is about “making connections, growing businesses, promoting the Berkshires and developing leaders.”
When the Berkshires call, it’s hard to resist.
“Along with being a world-renowned cultural hub, no trip to the Berkshires is complete without getting outside,” said Lindsey Hammond Schmid, director of marketing for 1Berkshire. “From aerial adventure parks throughout the county to hiking and kayaking to skiing and snowshoeing, groups have many options no matter the season.”
In Stockbridge, where group venues include the Norman Rockwell Museum and landmark Red Lion Inn, in continuous operation since around 1777, the Naumkeag House & Gardens is another Trustees’ treasure.
Designed by master architects McKim, Mead, & White, Naumkeag was the 44-room summer “cottage” of prominent 19th century attorney Joseph Choate. Guided house tours reveal the time-capsule preservation of Naumkeag’s original decor and furnishings. Naumkeag is the Native American name for Salem, Mass., Choate’s birthplace.
The Gilded-Age splendor continues outside in serene spots like the Chinese Garden and the Blue Steps, a cascade of pools flanked by four flights of stairs and white birches. Outdoor functions and small business events can be arranged on a limited basis.
Just to the north in Lenox, Tanglewood is the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and world-renowned for its summer music festival, with versatile rental options including the lovely 100-person Formal Gardens tent. Continuing north, event-capable cultural beacons in Pittsfield include the 1903 Colonial Theatre, home of the Berkshire Theatre Group, and Berkshire Museum, while Williamstown is home to the preeminent Clark Art Institute.
Reopened this summer, the Berkshire Scenic Railway (with a museum in Lenox) offers year-round weekend excursions between Adams and North Adams in the scenic Hoosac Valley. Continuing east to Charlemont, Berkshire East Mountain Resort features skiing, ziplining, white-water rafting and the Thunderbolt, which spans 3,870 feet and is the longest mountain coaster ride in the nation.