Looking to leverage its natural assets for community and economic development, the Northern Berkshires turned to Vermont's Northeast Kingdom for guidance.

The Berkshire Eagle reports at its monthly forum on Friday, the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition looked at the economic impact of outdoor recreation in a presentation from the Kingdom Trails Association based in East Burke, Vt.

More than 50 people — ranging from city residents to representatives from organizations such as the Department of Conservation and Recreation and the Hoosic River Revival — attended the meeting at 85 Main St.

Kingdom Trails, a nonprofit founded in 1994, manages a network of more than 100 miles of multi-use trails in the northeast corner of Vermont. In recent years, Kingdom Trails has seen the number of visitors to its trail system skyrocket, which created a corresponding economic impact.

Lilias Ide, the events and marketing manager for Kingdom Trails, told Friday's Coalition gathering: "You guys are already so close to actually being there with outdoor recreation. It seems like everyone is on board."

The nonprofit built a network of all-season trails on land controlled by a variety of owners. People buy day passes or annual memberships to use the trails for a variety of non-motorized uses only, from mountain biking to hiking.

Kingdom Trails continues to grow. For the first time, an estimated all-time high of 100,000 people used the trail system last year.

In the Northern Berkshires, the recreational asset most primed for development is the Greylock Glen in Adams, according to state Rep. John Barrett III, D-North Adams.

Barrett drew parallels between the Greylock Glen, a 1,000-acre parcel of recreational land at the base of Mount Greylock, and Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, which was a focus of the area's revitalization as industry vanished.

Barrett said he hoped to bring new forward about developments at the Greylock in coming weeks.

Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield, echoed that passion for outdoor recreation and said it was an important piece of getting 20- and 30-year-olds back to the area.

Hinds said he's been exploring how to develop the region's environmental assets. The senator is working on an environmental bond bill through which he hopes to fund a trail assessment in Western Massachusetts.

The presentation was followed by a networking session and breakout groups that worked on how to improve local access to natural assets and use those assets as levers of economic development.


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