Downtowns made for walking

Wednesday September 12, 2012

Visitors know the Berkshires for their scenic charm and historical richness. Among those who live here and become involved in culture, arts and entertainment, a few take their act on the road -- literally. They guide walking tours aimed at sharing a visceral appreciation for the area's many offerings.

North Adams resident Paul W. Marino is one of those stalwarts. He began leading local history tours in the early 1990s. Marino said he first planned popular cemetery tours, for which he has become well-known. Periodically he added buildings and other interesting places in town to the walks.

"I've also done tours of the North Adams Public Library, the Masonic Temple and the First Congregational Church," Marino said. "A few years ago, I organized a tour for the Women's Club of Pittsfield, which I led once, and then I trained a few of the members to lead the tours."

Marino prepares for his walks by organizing notes and taking along volumes of photos, typically far older shots of certain town locations so he can contrast them to those of the present day. He said humor is a very strong element of his tours because he believes everyone should have a good time.

He added that many unexpected things can happen on a tour.

"The most memorable thing that happened was one year I sent out my press release and it caught the interest of an editor at the Eagle, who sent a photographer to get a publicity photo and a few extra details," Marino said. "It made quite a spread, and on the day of the walk, I had 90 people show up. It was like an Energizer Bunny commercial; they just kept coming!"

Central and South County also have their share of guided walking tours. Megan Whilden, Pittsfield's director of cultural development, said her city has guided tours and unguided tours.

"Walking tours are a wonderful way to slow down and really see and experience a neighborhood or community," Whilden said. "Pittsfield has several self-guided walking tours, including Artscape, a tour of the dozens of public art installations in the newly designated Upstreet Cultural District. Also, we offer a self-guided tour of African-American historic sites in central Pittsfield via brochure, and a self-guided historic tour of upstreet Pittsfield."

Guided historic tours are organized and run out of the Athenaeum, and a dedicated group of senior citizens volunteer as guides, she added.

In Great Bar rington, local historian David Rutstein has been conducting summer historic walking tours since 2006.

"Over the past centuries, important people were born here, lived here, or are associated with our town," Rutstein said. "Their accomplishments and achievements have had an impact on all of us. We visit site markers, sites, and buildings associated with these people, including historic events of note, that have affected the nation and the world."

These tours, Rutstein emphasized, interest walkers because all of the historic people mentioned are well-known, or their accomplishments are familiar. This allows his groups, even those from far away, to identify with people, places and events as they follow him around Great Barrington.

"Many people on my walks are from the Berkshires," he said. "However, the vast majority are from other parts of our nation, with most of these from the northeast. Even people from overseas such from Canada, England, Ireland, Nor way, and even Bangladesh have been part of the tours."

Since so many walkers are interested in W.E.B. Du Bois, and especially in where he was born, Rutstein devotes one-quarter of the tour to the first 16 years of young "Willy" Du Bois' life in town. Even in the age of smartphone apps that can conduct a walking tour of the places he takes visitors, Rutstein said feedback from years of guided tours demonstrates the value in connecting history with human curiosity.

"The most repeated remark I hear from people during a tour season is something like, ‘Gee, I wish our community had such a walking tour,'" Rutstein said. "And I just love to see a face light up when I'm talking about someone important or an extraordinary event that is associated with our town, and hear that person say, 'I didn't know that!' " Wednesday September 12, 2012

What: Pittsfield Historical Commission walking tours

Where: Berkshire Athenaeum,
1 Wendell Ave., Pittsfield

When: Saturdays at 10 a.m. through October

Admission: Free

Information: Joseph Gurtin, (413) 443-7942

What: Tour of Capt. Truman Wheeler House with Great Barrington Historical Society

Where: 817 S. Main St., Great Barrington

When: Sunday, noon to 4 p.m.


Self-guided tours include:

Adams: Historic Park Street


Stockbridge: Mohican walking tour

Where: Mission House, 19 Main St., Stockbridge



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