Even though a wintry chill has closed in, a steady stream of hikers and motorists converged on the fogenshrouded, 3,491-foot Mount Greylock summit Saturday morning to visit the War Memorial Monument and to warm up inside Bascom Lodge.
Built between 1935 and 1938 by the federal government's Civilian Conservation Corps as a work project during the Great Depression, the lodge has been carefully and extensively restored by its current proprietors, the Bascom Lodge Group, which took over the facility under a 25-year lease with the state's Historic Curatorship program two and a half years ago.
The three partners - brothers John and Peter Dudek, both Adams natives, and their associate, designer Brad Parsons - have re-created an inviting center for diners, lodgers, wedding parties and corporate retreats while maintaining its rustic qualities as a stopover for hikers and day trippers.
On the clearest days, you can see almost forever, so it seems - 120 miles in all directions - but the summit has a mystique that beckons visitors even in the worst weather.
"Tropical Storm Irene was a non-event here," observed John Dudek, the chef at the lodge and live-in proprietor who presides over a staff of 12 fulltimers. "We even had a wedding party here that weekend, and they had a great time."
Although winds were moderate, heavy rain tested the integrity of the rebuilt summit roadway's drainage system, and it came through unscathed, he
Dudek said the lodge has enjoyed its strongest season of the past three summers.
It serves seven-day-a-week breakfast, snacks, lunch and dinner (a requirement under the lease with the state Department of Conservation and Recreation), offers overnight lodging in renovated bunk rooms and private rooms, maintains a gift shop, and hosts special events and Wednesdaynight community programs.
As curators, the partners don't pay rent but are responsible for upkeep and renovations. "Every year has been different," said Dudek, who spends winters as a dinner-party chef in Manhattan while his brother Peter teaches visual arts at Hunter College in the city.
"The county's tourism industry was hit hard this season, for two reasons," said Dudek, noting that people have cut down on spending as the economic slowdown drags on longer than expected. The bizarre weather also took a heavy toll.
But, he said, the lodge was largely spared because of its "diversity of offerings. We did better than last year, but in different areas."
The number of day visitors who use the cafe "dropped down, and they spent less money," he explained. "But the events stepped in and did more than expected."
He cited weddings, corporate dinners, and private family gatherings such as reunions and birthday parties.
"Not only did the number of these increase," Dudek said, "but the amount of money they wanted to spend per person went up.
"The events brought a lot more business than we had planned, so that offset the general deecline in other areas," he added.
In the future, Dudek said he plans to heighten the lodge's profile because he encounters summit visitors unaware of the services provided.
He wants the building to "look like someone inhabits it, because it was designed to fit into the landscape, so it doesn't necessarily attract your attention right away. We want the exterior to look inviting for people to come in because it's amazing how many people say they didn't know they could come into the building."
The Dudeks and Parsons are paid through revenues from the business, and so far so good, Dudek said. "From the business perspective, things will vastly improve when the restoration winds down," he predicted.
The partners are close to paying off a $65,000 business loan from Berkshire Bank, freeing up capital for other projects.
An $800,000 federal grant will help fund renovations.
As part of the ongoing maintenance and restoration work to stem roof leaks, the lodge will reopen several weeks later next season on June 1. Next summer, Dudek has plans to bring in a theater troupe for murder-mystery nights, and Parsons will put together a series of Saturday night jazz concerts.