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An architectural rendering of the planned Greylock Glen Outdoor Center in Adams. After many delays, the state has released $6.5 million for the center.

ADAMS

The phone call Jay Green took Monday was years in coming.

On the other end: Gov. Charlie Baker, calling to tell the Adams town administrator that money will be released to start work on a long-planned outdoor recreation and nature center on a slope below Mount Greylock.

For decades, one development project after another was floated for the Greylock Glen, including grand schemes for condos and golf courses.

Then, in a shift, a smaller vision emerged: a nature center conceived as a first step to exciting public interest in the area’s natural beauty, a back-door approach to economic development.

“It’s been known as the project that would never happen,” said state Rep. John Barrett III, D-North Adams, who pushed for the release of money. “The governor told his cabinet, ‘Get it done.’ It will be a major economic development project.”

On Wednesday, Green briefed the Adams Select Board on the project’s green light, as Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito joined the session by videoconference. “It’s a treasure as it is, but it will be more of an asset to your community,” Polito said.

The $6.5 million coming from a state bond bill allows Adams, acting as the developer, to put out a bid package based on designs unveiled in 2018 and recently updated. The timetable would allow construction to begin this year, Barrett said, with the center to open in 2022.

All permits are in place, though work that affects wetlands will be updated for the town’s Conservation Commission. In addition to the bond money, the Greylock Glen project is in line to receive federal funding to build out a larger water system needed for future development of the site, including, if private enterprise opts in, a lodge, conference center and 2,500-seat amphitheater.

Barrett said officials had hoped to be at this point a year ago, but lost 12 months to the pandemic. That wasn’t the first delay. In 2018, officials hoped to start work in 2019 and open the facility in 2020.

In that time, public interest in outdoor recreation has grown, Barrett said, bolstering the argument for a Greylock Glen investment.

The center will sit on the 1,063-acre Glen parcel, 94 percent of which would remain undeveloped. The site includes woodlands, open fields and ponds and is close to a growing network of hiking and mountain biking trails. To the west lies the 12,500-acre Mount Greylock State Reservation, including the state’s highest peak.

In a phone interview Wednesday night, Kathleen A. Theoharides, secretary of the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, praised the project for keeping its focus on the beauty of the natural setting.

“It’s impossible to stand on that site and not see the potential,” said Theoharides, who visited in January 2020. “This really marries conservation and an appreciation for the natural world with the potential to bring a real tourist attraction to Adams and the area.”

Long-held dream

Barrett said the Outdoor Center will stimulate the North County economy and realizes a dream long pursued by Donna E. Cesan, the former director of community development in Adams.

“She was near tears when I finally told her,” Barrett said of the arrival of state funding.

Cesan said Wednesday she recalls hand-delivering a Greylock Glen project to MassDevelopment in September 2004. She retired last year, but remains involved as special projects coordinator. Without a doubt, the Glen is this community’s evergreen special project, one that Cesan says she worked to keep on track for all those years, resisting the “creep” of add-ons that would make it harder to accomplish.

“So far, it’s held the test of time,” she said. “The Glen has always been about that balance between economic development and environmental protection. You build to your strengths. And our strengths were recreational opportunities.”

John Duval, the chair of the Select Board, told his colleagues that he’d checked back through news coverage of the Glen and found a story about a would-be project from April 23, 1971. A project that never came about.

“It’s almost been 50 years to the day that our community has waited for this moment,” Duval said. “It’s been 50 darn years.”

Polito saluted Barrett for his dogged pursuit of the project. She said the lawmaker always found a way to bring it up at the end of conversations with the Baker administration.

When he ran for the Legislature several years back, Barrett had made clear that his top goal for his district was seeing the Glen project advance.

“It will bring business to the downtown and spread across the entire region,” he said.

Studies have calculated substantial spinoff benefits from a Glen project on a part of Berkshire County that has lagged other communities in median household income.

“It’s like Mass MoCA, you don’t know where it’s going to lead,” Barrett said. “It will capitalize on what we have.”

The center was designed by Maclay Architects of Vermont as a net-zero energy building. It will house space for environmental education programs, a cafe, equipment rentals and other features.

The Massachusetts Audubon Society has expressed interest in running environmental programs at the Glen site.

The new funding tops off substantial earlier public investments. The MassWorks program committed $2 million for work on water and sewer systems and improvements to nearby Gould Road. Another $3 million was plowed into other prep work. The town of Adams itself has invested roughly $1 million over the years in pursuit of a realistic and sustainable project at the Glen.

Of the new state funding, plans have called for $5 million to erect the building, with $1.5 million to do further site work.

Larry Parnass can be reached at lparnass@berkshireeagle.com and 413-588-8341.

Investigations editor

Larry Parnass joined The Eagle in 2016 from the Daily Hampshire Gazette, where he was editor in chief. His freelance work has appeared in the Washington Post, Boston Globe, Hartford Courant, CommonWealth Magazine and with the Reuters news service.