Carousel rides into second season

Berkshire Homecoming set for July 1; barbecue draws hungry customers

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PITTSFIELD — Judah Filson was face-painted in chocolate ice cream after his very first spin on the Berkshire Carousel.

The 4-year-old Williamstown boy enjoyed the midday dairy treat under the adjoining tent after mounting "Charlie," one of the more popular colorful horses on the hand-crafted amusement ride at the corner of Center and South Church streets.

Becca Filson has wanted Judah to try out the merry-go-round ever since they saw the horses being "born."

"We saw the horses when they were being carved at the Berkshire Mall and wanted to see the finished product," Filson said. "[Judah] loves horses."

The Filsons were among the dozens of rookie and repeat riders Berkshire Carousel organizers hope increase ridership to 50,000 in its second season.

Friday was soft opening day for 2017 that includes tweaked hours, a daily barbecue and more special events in an attempt to bolster attendance and enhance the carousel experience, according to Director Maria Caccaviello.

The first year finished with ridership of 35,000, well below the projected 50,000 that Caccaviello aims to reach by New Year's Day. Ridership was about 27,000 by Labor Day last year, and organizers have eliminated weekend winter hours, focusing on the summer, fall and holiday seasons to attract children of all ages to what Caccaviello dubs "the ongoing community art project."

The Carousel has revamped ticket prices as one attempt to encourage more rides, offering package deals of four tickets at $10; 10 at $20 that can be used on more than one day. Caccaviello said she doubts raising the single ride ticket price from $2 to $3 will be a deterrent.

"Rarely does one person buy one ticket," she said.

The hours have been tweaked to opening one hour later, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., six days a week; Sunday hours are from noon to 6 p.m.

Four-year-old Austin Cook rode multiple times on Friday with his aunt, Amanda Phillips.

""I love any thing that has to do with having fun," said Phillips, of Pittsfield.

Berkshire Carousel debuted last July 4 weekend after more than a decade of planning, carving, sanding and painting three dozen wooden horses, restoration and installation of the mechanism that drives the classic amusement ride house in the steel frame of the pavilion from the former Berkshire YMCA Camp near Pontoosuc Lake.

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Jim and Nancy Shulman spearheaded the project by securing the vacant lot next to CVS that came to life thanks to thousands of private donations, grant funding and in-kind services from J.H. Maxymillian Inc. When built out, the multi-million dollar community-based project will include expanded concessions and an exhibition hall housing thousands of pieces of Pittsfield memorabilia, many from Jim Shulman's collection.

Caccaviello says completion is on the back burner, but Berkshire Carousel has already expanded its food options. Backyard BBQ set up on site Memorial Day weekend and has quickly developed a steady lunchtime crowd. People can also dine-in under the big yellow and white-striped tent, and others have chosen to bring dinner home.

Florida restaurateur Derrick Franklin came north because of the carousel, looking to get involved in a community-driven venture. He, his partner Melissa Lane, and a dozen employees man the roadside eatery daily from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Renting space from Berkshire Carousel, Franklin sells out of the barbecue ribs, chicken, corn bread and side dishes every day.

"Barbecue brings family together, then their neighbors and their friends — it's a community thing," he said just before the lunch rush on Wednesday.

Berkshire Carousel also has more special events and activities planned through the end of the year. On July 1, the inaugural "Berkshire Homecoming" invites relocated county residents home for the holiday weekend to rekindle old friendships and connect with other former Berkshirites to create new friends. The homecoming is scheduled from 1 to 5 p.m.

Holiday themed activities were a big hit last year and will continue in 2017, Caccaviello said.

"We were packed for our Christmas week and really did good around Thanksgiving," she noted.

Food, gift shop, and special events aside, the carousel remains the centerpiece of the volunteer-driven entertainment that requires plenty of upkeep.

After 35,000 mounts and dismounts, the 33 horses, two chariots, one spinning cup and one donkey are in pretty good shape, with a few minor repairs and plenty of touch-up painting required to make them shine on opening day.

Five-year volunteer Katy Levesque started last fall with the ongoing maintenance that she has kept up with, with help from the riders themselves.

"People are amazed it took a lot of hours to [initially] paint these horses," she said. "They are very respectful."

The volunteers take great pride ensuring the thousands of hours put into creating the carousel aren't forgotten.

"This is very personal to us as we spent a lot of time on them," said Evelyn Wilker-Pieloch.

Reach staff writer Dick Lindsay at 413-496-6233.


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