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After Nearly 20 Years, MA Still Ponders Fate of Mount Greylock

Wed October 08, 2003 - Northeast Edition

ADAMS, MA (AP) It’s a big mountain that has inspired big dreams and nearly as many dashed hopes.

Rising 3,491 ft. from sea level, Mount Greylock’s landslide-scarred summit became Massachusetts’ first state park in 1898.

But, for nearly two decades, environmentalists and developers have locked horns over the future of 1,000 acres of rolling meadows at the base of peak.

The state took the property with hopes of creating a public-private cross-country ski resort to revive the local economy. Since then, plans have been floated for four-season condominium resorts, prisons, and a showcase center for green industries.

All have fallen by the wayside, leaving the scenic glen with its spectacular views of the state’s highest peak, a meadow filled only with wildflowers, patrolled by the occasional hunting hawk.

Some are just as happy to see no construction.

“The best thing that happened is everyone who tried to develop this went bankrupt,” said Linda Meyer, sunning herself by a small pond built more than 30 years ago for a failed golf course. “It’s a great place for the children.

“Over the years, it’s become a natural park for the neighborhood,” said Meyer, who lives nearby. The amenities are few. The pond is too polluted for swimming. But a small nature trail winds through the wetlands and there’s a small picnic pavilion and hiking trails.

But frustrated Adams selectmen said after years of wrangling with environmental groups over massive proposals — from vacation homes to golf courses and San Moritz-style resort villages — it’s time for the state to give up and let them try their own hand at playing developer.

“They’ve screwed up every possible development, and now they are doing nothing,” Board of Selectmen Chairman Edward Driscoll.

Most recently, the state rejected all three proposals it received for environmental-education facilities on the site.

Katie Ford, a spokeswoman for the state executive office of environmental affairs, declined to comment on Driscoll’s suggestion that the state give the property to the town.

However, she said officials would seek new proposals for an environmental-resource center on the property. The $3.5-million center was all then-acting Gov. Jane Swift kept two years ago of plans put together by two of her predecessors, Govs. William Weld and Paul Cellucci, for a $150-million golf and ski resort, including up to 300 luxury homes.

“If we get a set of proposals that do get a thumbs up, we will be looking at it,” Ford said. “Nothing has been ruled in or out.”

The state became involved in 1985 when the Legislature, at then-Gov. Michael Dukakis’ urging, approved $8.5 million to take the glen property by eminent domain and help build a cross-country ski resort.

It was owned by a bank that foreclosed after a developer had gone under trying to first build a downhill ski and golf resort and then a gambling casino.

However, the modest plans quickly mushroomed into a $280-million resort village with 1,250 condominiums and hotels providing overnight accommodations for 3,000 people. It included an 18-hole golf course, 25-acre man-made lake, 23 tennis courts, three chairlifts and more than 60 mi. of cross-country ski trails with the state buying the property and building some of the amenities.

Outraged, all of the state’s major environmental groups threatened to sue. Weld trashed the plan when he took office in 1990. A new master plan was drawn calling for a conference center emphasizing environmental education and public cross-country ski trails and a golf course. But state officials could not find a private developer willing to take on the project without the profit that housing would provide.

And when hundreds of private vacation homes were added to the plan, battle was joined again.

The proposal for the environmental center was rejected by the state recently because of unanswered financial questions about the ability of the nonprofit groups to operate it without state subsidies, said Karen Sawyer, a spokeswoman for the state’s development agency. They ranged from a $4.8-million nature education center for schoolchildren to a series of high-tech informational kiosks connected to a downtown museum.

But she acknowledged the years of bickering between those pushing development and those seeking to keep the site wild have taken their toll. The state got three responses after sending out 80 proposals for the education center.

“There’s been so much controversy, people are scared to put anything together — to touch this,” she said.

“People on both sides remain wary,” said Tad Ames, executive director of the Berkshire Natural Resources Council, which has been a vocal opponent of resort development. “I hope the Romney administration will take this opportunity to really rethink what kind of place the glen is.

“Increasingly it is being used as a park and valued as open space,” he said, with the focus of state development being in downtown Adams where a $2-million visitors’ center is scheduled to be completed at the end of October. “Now the idea is becoming how the glen as a park could contribute to Adams’ economic revival.”

Driscoll acknowledged that a town takeover is a long shot, but he said the population and economy of the little mountain community, which now has approximately 8,000 residents, have continued to slide. Recently two more mills — once an economic staple of this part of the state — closed.

“We’re the ones that have been hurt by this,” he said. “We’re not wedded to development on the mountain, but the economic benefit. Show us an alternative and we will be all ears.”