Clarence Fanto: Cooler heads should prevail as state pushes ahead to reopen

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LENOX — From my silver lining playbook: There are more bicyclists sharing our local roads with vehicles bearing kayaks and other watercraft than I can recall over the past four decades.

The area used to be promoted as "The Cultural Berkshires." With much of the county's vibrant arts and entertainment scene shut down or delayed, perhaps "The Recreational Berkshires" would be a more apt rebranding, at least for this summer of our pandemic pandemonium.

For full- or part-time residents as well as visitors, the allure of year-round outdoor recreation looms large as the hospitality sector of our stricken economy cautiously reopens.

After the Bad Times become a nightmarish memory, we'll always have Tanglewood, Jacob's Pillow, our theaters and smaller concert venues. So we hope.

But, it's worth saluting Mill Town Capital, the deep-pocketed Pittsfield investment group that's putting its considerable financial heft behind the county's hospitality sector. The firm recently purchased the venerable Gateways Inn of Lenox and plans to open a family-friendly restaurant there.

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Mill Town organized a Zoom webinar this past week to showcase the efforts of regional planners to collaborate on polishing and pushing the county's image as a four-season recreational magnet. The goal is to draw weary urbanites and suburbanites to our tranquil oasis, fortunately ranked as the state's least-infected region at this stage of the seemingly endless coronavirus pandemic.

Apart from reigniting the vitally important tourism sector of the county's economy, the aim is also to attract families whose breadwinners can work remotely, at least in areas with strong broadband and cellular coverage.

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"Let the Berkshires be your backyard" is the slogan offered by Lindsey Schmid, the VP of tourism and marketing at 1Berkshire, the county's economic development agency. "People really want to feel safe, but they want to have fun and feel a bit of an escape," she said during Thursday's webinar, as detailed in Friday's Eagle.

The 1Berkshire.com website offers one-stop shopping for people exploring relocation to the county, for job-seekers and anyone seeking information on what the county has to offer.

If Massachusetts and New York state manage to continue keeping the virus infection rate down, we can look forward to an outdoor recreation festival at Hancock Shaker Village on Oct. 2 organized by Mill Town Capital, according to Caroline Holland, the company's managing director.

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There's obvious synergy between recreation and a lively nighttime scene. The communities that have relaxed their rules and regulations to permit struggling restaurants to offer outdoor dining deserve commendation for their creative efforts to turn their downtowns into festive destinations while complying with state guidelines and mandates for socially distant gatherings.

But ,with COVID-19 cases soaring in most states to our west and south, New York excepted, we can't throw caution to the wind. Unless city and town beaches can be monitored closely to avoid overcrowding and ensure face-covering rules are observed except while swimming, certain lakefront beaches may have to be more strictly regulated, if not closed or barred from opening at all.

Since summers fly by in a flash here, the temptation is to frolic while the sun shines. Sadly, we can never forget that we're in the midst of a resurgent pandemic, and a respite from the necessary health and safety guidelines of these times poses unacceptable risks.

Soon enough, confronting the harsh reality of how to reopen schools and workplaces safely will reemerge as top priorities. Meanwhile, common sense and attention to the guidance of health specialists and enlightened government leaders at the state and local level must prevail, lest we descend into the chaotic abyss confronting all too many states beyond our borders.

Clarence Fanto can be reached at cfanto@yahoo.com or on Twitter, @BE_CFanto. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of The Berkshire Eagle.


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