Great Barrington to celebrate heritage with all-day festival

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GREAT BARRINGTON — Community pride will shine as brightly as the lights on the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center marquee when the century-old landmark becomes the focal point of the inaugural Great Barrington Heritage Day.

From 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., a wealth of free activities will spotlight the historic, natural, cultural and culinary riches of the south county town and its surroundings, with options for all ages, interests and abilities.

Stroll along riverfronts and hike hillsides, paddle down the Housatonic and pedal past historic sites, and explore trees in woodlands and downtown.

Peek behind the scenes of a vintage theater, watch classic films on the big screen, and learn about luminaries who once called Great Barrington home.

Listen to live music, savor treats from local restaurants, and entertain kids with dress-up photos and a beloved animated movie.

Great Barrington Heritage Day is the brainchild of Mahaiwe Executive Director Beryl Jolly. Her intent is to celebrate the town and the region, "and so many aspects of the people and places that make this area so special," she said, "that have kept families here for generations and bring others to adopt the area and a life here."

"There has been so much energy around the history of the town: the river, the buildings, the trees, the stories and the people. We wanted to collaborate with a lot of different partners and bring all that to life."

The idea was met with much enthusiasm, and Jolly assembled a veritable Who's Who of area organizations, each of whom contributes interests and expertise to the event.

Longtime local resident and natural resources advocate Christine Ward will lead the first walk of the day, a 3.5 mile hike that wends up a hill, along forest trails and down to the Housatonic. It is part of a three-part excursion that includes a stroll along the riverbank and a canoe paddle downstream.

"It's become a growing trend in Berkshire County in general and in Great Barrington specifically that people enjoy being on the move while learning," Ward said, taking a break from planting leeks and potatoes. "It's a sign of our emphasis on fitness and our enjoyment and understanding of our connection to the natural world and how it enhances our lives."

She encourages Heritage Day explorers "to really be present and look for the clues like detectives trying to puzzle out what life was like before and how does that inform our choices for the future."

They can view historic fairgrounds through the lens of a camera; tour landmarks by bicycle with the town planner; let historian Bernard Drew reveal downtown's quirkier side; and learn about the local farm that inspired the Community Supported Agriculture movement.

Ward, whose family owns Ward's Nursery, invites everyone to check out the new town arboretum running along Main Street, and recognize the mighty trees that have passed along the way.

"We greatly appreciate the history of our community and its ability to change and be flexible and grow," she said.

Music and cuisine, each integral aspects of local life, are represented by day-long sounds from rock to zydeco at Town Hall, with special dishes and samples offered streetside by area restaurants throughout the early evening.

A scavenger hunt leads children on their own journey of discovery, and dress-up photo ops spark imaginations.

The Mahaiwe, always the centerpiece of the community's cultural life, offers a rare cinematic screening of Disney's debut animated feature "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" (1937), as well as the original "King Kong" (1933), and "Pretty Poison" (1968) which was filmed in Great Barrington. Take a backstage tour of the lovingly restored picture palace and vaudeville house, then join a story circle on the storied stage.

"It was really fun during a story-sharing last summer to hear about people who came in with a nickel and stayed for several movies, then took the trolley home to Housatonic," Jolly said.

There are other histories to discover, of electrical pioneer William Stanley, ready to shine light on the dark streets, and W.E.B. Du Bois, who so cherished his childhood homesite.

Heritage Day "is a wonderful time to learn things about the place that we so enjoy and appreciate," Ward said.

"I hope that folks get out and enjoy the day," she said. "You wouldn't want to miss it."

If you go ...

What: Great Barrington Heritage Day

When: Saturday

Where: Throughout Great Barrington

Cost: Free, donations welcomed. Event reservations encouraged as some capacity limits apply.

Reservations: www.mahaiwe.org, (413) 528-0100

Information: www.mahaiwe.org/GB_Heritage_Day_2, www.facebook.com/GBHeritageDay


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