GREAT BARRINGTON -- A restoration of the Great Barrington Fairgrounds to its former glory is off to a strong start, despite a delay in the town permitting process.

The 57-acre site near Great Barrington's south end was purchased in December 2012 for $800,000 by Sheffield residents Bart and Janet Elsbach.

In the year since, the couple has teamed with locals to create a nonprofit that will ensure the historic site remains under hometown control. Projects in the immediate pipeline include a dog park, a gazebo with a majestic Housatonic River view, and a transformation of the cowshed to a multi-use facility that will allow for future flea markets.

"We've been very, very pleased and grateful that so many people have come forward with such great enthusiasm and generosity," Bart Elsbach said.

In December 2012, the couple purchased the Great Barrington Fairgrounds. They intend to sell the property at the $800,000 purchase price to a newly self-created all-volunteer nonprofit, Fair Ground Community Redevelopment Project, which is run by a five-person board.

The once weed-burdened parcel is again being used to serve the community since falling into disuse since the mid-1990s.

In October 2013, the fairgrounds hosted a fundraising event that included an obstacle course, the Shire Mudder, and then later in the month the Southern Berkshire Chamber of Commerce hosted a Halloween Haunted Hay Ride. More than 375 volunteers and six landscaping companies have pitched in to help clear the site, according to information provided by the nonprofit.


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Meanwhile, nearly $200,000 has been raised toward the ownership transition and operating expenses, which includes property insurance and onsite utility expenses, Elsbach said. Four foundations have donated $43,500. The nonprofit is currently accepting donations through its website, www.gbfg.org, as part of a $100,000 challenge grant that will double the value of any amount contributed.

The immediate vision for the fairgrounds includes a dog park near the Great Barrington entrance way and a transformation of the dilapidated cowshed.

The dog park is estimated to cost $20,000, which is largely attributed to fencing. The repairs to the cowshed is expected to cost $80,000.

In the summer, the nonprofit pulled back an application submitted to the Great Barrington Conservation Commission to develop a gazebo and relocate mounds of soil. The project was blocked by the state Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program, according to Conservation Commission Chairman Andrew Mankin.

The state wanted to see "the whole scope" of development, according to Mankin. The nonprofit intends to re-submit plans later in the winter, according to Elsbach.

Elsbach said there has been "good progress." Accomplishments include the formation of the nonprofit, cleanup of the site, and putting the property back into community use.

Volunteers and local companies has provided important support, with contributions from Sheffield-based companies Webster Landscape, Inc., Ingersoll Land Care, and Barrett Tree Service, and Great Barrington-based Whalen Nursery, Inc.

In 2014, Elsbach said there will be additional cleanups, a possible wood-working class that will allow for creation of the gazebo, a return of "some iteration" of the Shire Mudder obstacle event, and other events that should pave the way for bigger projects down the road.

"If we can get those permits in place, we can get working on the cowshed and dog park and that would be a great accomplishment for next year," Elsbach said.

When these development will come together will largely depend on the permitting process.

"I am optimistic it will be in the near term, but I don't have a firm answer [when]," Elsbach said. "It's one thing for a community project, it's different for a box store with resources being able to say" when it can open.

The fairgrounds could even go back to selling some popcorn onsite soon.

This summer the circus could be coming to town, Elsbach said, with conversations ongoing with Greensboro, Vt.-based Circus Smirkus.

To reach John Sakata:
jsakata@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6240.
On Twitter: @jsakata