ADAMS — Hikers at Greylock Glen sometimes stumble upon them, these ghostly relics of past efforts to develop the sprawling natural enclave around them:
Support structures for a proposed tramway. Light fixtures to illuminate a ski slope. Rusted metal rods in the locally dubbed "rebar forest."
All are signs of attempts to launch commercial enterprises on the land since at least the 1960s. Generations in Adams recall the proposals, each of which brought intense debate, and often criticism from environmental groups seeking to protect the Glen, perhaps the state's premier natural asset.
At one point, a complete golf course was constructed, part of a plan that included a lake, ski area, housing, a hotel and commercial village. The developer ran out of funding. The project was abandoned. The golf course became overgrown, but not forgotten, feeding skepticism about any effort at the Glen to spur economic activity in Adams.
Today, with new businesses and apartments opening downtown, construction is underway on a very different project for the Greylock Glen. An Adams company is building a 10,000-square-foot outdoor center that will include a food service and cafe area, a retail space for an equipment outfitter, and an outdoor education center. The project abuts the 12,455-acre Mount Greylock State Reservation, created in 1898 by an act of the Legislature.
On Tuesday morning, the governor and lieutenant governor will be back in Adams. Not to talk about a planned project, but to witness one in motion.
Around Adams, this new project has residents hopeful it can rewrite the history of failed development at the Glen.
Ann Klammer, who lives near the project, said they have been hopeful before, and would have enjoyed having a golf course close by. This new version has them hopeful again.
“We’re glad to see new things, and hope that it will bring something good to town. The town is in a tough time right now,” said Klammer, a longtime Adams resident. “They need to make it nice so we can have charming little shops downtown like we used to have. That’s my big hope.”
Another neighbor, Mike Wellington, agrees. “I think this is going to be a good thing for the town,” he said.
What they're building
The $9 million project, which includes a water and sewer system, will take more than a year to complete, according to Town Administrator Jay Green. Funding, already in hand, has come in the form of state and federal grants, including the town’s investment of roughly $1 million.
David Bissaillon, a member of the board of directors for ProAdams, a nonprofit that promotes Adams as a destination, sees a new path with great potential.
“I think we’ve passed a barrier we’ve never passed before,” he said. “The Glen could serve as a wonderful catalyst for further economic growth in the town and the county. We’ll finally have a destination of our own. Adams won’t just be the charming town you drive through to get to the museum anymore.”
State and town officials see the project as an economic development investment that will pay off by generating revenue from outdoor enthusiasts. The idea is to keep people in Adams for a spell, providing spillover business.
“Every component of the Greylock Glen resort project will contribute not only to the local tax base and generate other income for the town, but also for the northern Berkshires by expanding the portfolio of attractions which will make this region a destination,” said Green, the town administrator. “If there are more attractions that keep people in the county, the economic impact for our communities is greater.”
Getting here took time.
Many attempts to capitalize on the Glen's beauty failed. Down went the golf course and ski area as well as a proposed casino and housing development.
Each sparked intense debate and drew crowds to local and state hearings. Through all of the drama of the past six decades, the Greylock Glen, mostly unspoiled, attracted visiting and local hikers, cross-country skiers, dog walkers and the daredevils who come out for the Thunderbolt backcountry ski competition.
In the end, nature's appeal won the day, leading to today's civic embrace of the Glen's lands, fauna and vistas.
In 2004, the town took control of the property. More serious plans started to take shape. The idea was to make it a town project with a public agenda of environmental conservation — not one proposed or led by commercial investors.
Town officials sought a scaled-back plan, a more simple, less aggressive development focused on environmental sustainability and people’s desire to enjoy recreation on natural surroundings.
That won over at least some local environmentalists. The multipurpose outdoor center will have a net-zero carbon footprint, powered by solar panels and storage batteries. Most of the materials used in the outdoor center will be wood or stone.
George Wislocki, founding president of the Berkshire Natural Resources Council, which had opposed other Glen proposals, expressed his support for the current plan.
"I hated the earlier proposals," Wislocki said. "Finally, years later, they came up with a good plan. Before, me and many other people fought against these terrible ideas.”
Donna Cesan, the town's former community development director, who now serves as special projects manager, says that after the idea of a different type of development took hold, the town and state entered into a development agreement in 2006.
The state issued a $3 million grant to pay for the development of a master plan for the Greylock Glen property. The state hired a consultant to design a trail system.
The state agreed that was the best way forward, Cesan said.
“We wanted to have a light impact on the site with an environmentally sensitive project, and serve as a model for how to proceed in a similar situation,” Cesan said.
The town’s proposed master plan was certified by the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act office in early 2010.
After attaining all needed permitting, the town entered into a 99-year lease of the state-owned land. Cesan said that 60 acres will be developed for the outdoor center.
In time, if private capital opts in, the area could become home to a hotel and conference center. The first added amenity may be a campground, for which the town just issued a request for proposals from developers. “We’d like to see development of the campground in tandem with the outdoor center,” Cesan said. Bids for the campground operator are due by 4 p.m. Nov. 10.
Another 1,000 acres of Glen property is under permanent protection from development, and will become part of the trail system.
“Since it’s expected to be a legacy building for the community, we want to be sure it’s done right,” Cesan said. “It has been a long time coming, but I think it needed to take a long time, so we took it step by step. As a result, we have a project that respects the land and enhances the recreational activities we have there now."
"We want people to visit, and we want them to stay for a while,” she said.
Further boxes needed to be ticked. Like an economic impact study, which forecast a positive effect on the local economy.
In 2016, Maclay Architects of Waitsfield, Vt., started work on the building design. In 2018, the firm started working on the schematic designs. By fall 2019, designs were complete, and the project’s cost was pegged at $6.5 million.
Then came the search for funding, which was aided immeasurably by state Rep. John Barrett III, Cesan said.
“It was really hard, because we were competing with other communities for funding,” Cesan said. “But Barrett’s experience in developing Mass MoCA helped us to convey the importance of this project to state officials. I found that to be incredibly helpful.”
In May 2021, the state provided a $6.5 million grant. But with the pandemic in full swing, and the price of building materials rising, the town rushed to issue a request for proposals for the outdoor center project. When bids came in, it was obvious $6.5 million would not be enough.
The lowest bid came in at $8.3 million. The state kicked in extra money.
With funding in place, the bidding process started, ending with the selection in January of Souliere & Zepka Construction as the prime contractor, an Adams company.
Site preparation started in June. Now, crews are working to install the building's foundation.
The project has seen cost increases and supply chain issues, but they were anticipated and much of the supplies were ordered earlier than usual. Work is proceeding well, says Amanda Zepka, president of the contractor.
Zepka says she is excited about the project, but not just for her company's bottom line. Zepka is a lifelong Adams resident and she has been looking forward to development of the Glen. Her father, who founded the company in 1981, has been involved in discussions over the Glen for decades. Now he’s the lead construction supervisor on site.
“We were really excited to see the funding come through for a project that was decades in the making, so it’s a big honor to be involved in it, personally and professionally,” she said. “And we don’t have to travel very far to get to the work site.”
She said it looks like material prices are starting to level out, but supply chain issues have forced them to be diligent in their ordering and receiving work.
“It’s a big change and a nuisance, but that’s just the nature of the beast these days,” Zepka said.
Once the center is completed, town officials will watch carefully to see what effect it will have on the town, but they are optimistic.
“The Outdoor Center at the Greylock Glen will be the first opportunity for the town to begin realizing the economic impact of outdoor recreation,” Green said.
“It is not a silver bullet or panacea," he said. "It is part of the town’s multifaceted approach to develop our tourism economy by developing anchor attractions — public or private.”