Time to give Berkshire Carousel a whirl - just not as often as before
PITTSFIELD — The Berkshire Carousel will spin less often this summer.
The handcrafted, built-from-scratch amusement ride at Church and Center streets reopens Saturday — and Saturdays only — through Sept. 15.
It's a big change from last year, when the carousel's 2017 summer season ran six days a week and, after Labor Day, was open most weekends, including the holiday season.
The 2018 one-day-a-week operation is due to a steep drop in ridership last year and a dwindling number of volunteers to man the merry-go-round, according to carousel organizers.
Director Maria Caccaviello hopes that with wadded business sponsorship, reduced ticket prices and new volunteers, interest in the 3-year-old attraction will be rekindled.
"Hopefully, if we have the demand, we'll stay open more days," Caccaviello told The Eagle on Wednesday. "We need to get back that new-car smell."
Opening day is sponsored by Lee Bank, allowing children to ride for free. For the rest of the season, the cost of a single ride has been reduced to $2.
Nearly 12 years after Pittsfield natives Jim and Jackie Shulman conceived the project, the Berkshire Carousel debuted during the 2016 Fourth of July weekend — to much fanfare, with 5,000 riders the first four days.
In all, 39,000 riders of all ages had mounted the hand-carved and painted wooden horses by the end of the calendar year. While significant in number, the total was 15,000 below projections.
In 2017, ridership fell to 6,000, Caccaviello said, nearly prompting the board of directors to shutter the carousel for the year.
"It broke my heart to almost close, but I convinced the board to at least open on Saturdays," she said.
Caccaviello also hopes to bolster the volunteer ranks, down to about 60 from the initial 400 individuals more than a decade ago who planned, carved, sanded and painted three dozen wooden horses, and also restored and installed the mechanism that drives the classic amusement ride housed in the steel frame of the pavilion from the former Berkshire YMCA Camp near Pontoosuc Lake.
The volunteer base shrunk, in part, due to the Berkshire Carousel closing its workshop, last housed near The Eagle, on March 1.
Caccaviello says the workshop had served its purpose, creating works of art that people could ride.
"It was hard to let the workshop go; it was a great place to gather with good people," she said.
The Berkshire Carousel still offers special activities for families, a gift shop, and a concession stand with ice cream and snacks, but organizers are looking for a hot food vendor to replace last year's outdoor barbecue.
For personal reasons, Florida restaurateur Derrick Franklin won't be headed north for season two of Backyard BBQ. The eatery had developed a steady clientele, many visiting the carousel for the first time.
The amenities aside, the 33 horses, two chariots, one spinning cup and one donkey remain the centerpiece of the volunteer-driven entertainment.
Volunteers will be on hand each Saturday to tell how "Charlie," "Brewster," "Thunderbolt" and the rest of the wooden colts and fillies came to be.
"If you don't hear about the soul of the horses, you don't know the whole story," Caccaviello said.
Dick Lindsay can be reached at email@example.com and 413-496-6233.
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