My honey, Lesley Lambert, poses the question what are you thankful for about Western Mass? on her blog. My reply became so lengthy it needed its own space:
As a kid growing up in Amherst, I took the Pioneer Valley for granted, and lamented the things it lacked. Namely interesting things to do for teenagers, (aside from going to the movies), and not many good venues for a performing rock band (though we probably were not as good as we thought we were back then.)
I went away from the Valley for my college years, to the University of Utah, to be near my dad and family there, as well as to broaden my horizons. I loved the mountains and the time I spent there, but then I returned to Western Mass right after. As an adult, I discovered an immense beauty and wealth of resources here that I simply was not aware of in my youth. My love affair with Western Mass started with a trip to Tanglewood, but that was only the tip of the iceberg.
As I wrote in the description for the first PodCamp held in Western Mass, we have a joyous blend of urban and rural; business, academics, and the arts; it’s big enough to have interesting places, things, events and people, but small enough to hear yourself think.
Here are the reasons I love Western Mass:
The Connecticut River – The word connecticut is a French corruption of the Algonquin word meaning “long river”. This river is the longest river in New England, and is what brought people and industry to the Pioneer Valley. It’s a beautiful river, and I enjoy looking at it every time I cross it on one of the many bridges that span it in Western Mass. There are boat tours on it out of Brunelle’s Marina in South Hadley, as well as out of Northfield at the energy facility there (now called FirstLight Power).
Wonderful People – Western Mass is the perfect blend of small town, mid-size cities, rural, and educated, intelligent people. Our fantastic, world-class education attracts wonderful, quirky, thoughtful, intelligent, geo-aware folks. Our people are real, interesting, and down-to-earth for the most part. Plus the diversity of people and their interests are rather amazing. And oh, did I mention talented?
The Seasons – Exactly as Lesley states, it’s an ever changing beauty, always something new. Spectacular fall foliage, summers that are warm but not too hot (usually), winter that has enough snow for fun outdoor activities like skiing and sledding, and makes being indoors cozy, and spring which is blooming and growing time.
The cute little hills most locals call mountains. Having grown up both in Western Mass and Utah, I have a tough time calling our hills mountains. But they are elevation, unlike the great plains states which have an elevation variation of plus/minus 15 feet. But our “mountains” are cute, are easily climbable, provide some elevation variety, and do have fantastic views. Mount Tom, Mount Holyoke, Mount Sugarloaf, Noble View, and the edge of the Berkshires, including Goshen, Chesterfield, etc
The Berkshires – I didn’t really know much about the Berkshires as a kid, but as an adult I am thrilled to discover all they have to offer. Especially Tanglewood and….
MassMoCA – A recent addition, it’s now the jewel of the Berkshires as far as I’m concerned; even better than Tanglewood – MassMoCA is a huge, converted mill building complex devoted to modern art. Worth visiting multiple times per year. Always shifting, and also includes performing arts, music, movies, etc.
Hidden Gems EVERYWHERE – So MANY things to discover here…. I think I know Western Mass well, yet I am CONTINUALLY discovering new cool places, hidden gems, such as kayaking and canoeing on the Connecticut from Barton’s Cove in Gill, great trails and a spectacular view from Noble View in Westfield, incredible world class restaurants such as the Blue Heron in Sunderland, Mike’s Maze (corn maze) also in Sunderland, the historic train station in Chester, Drive In movie theater in Northfield, interesting golf courses everywhere, mini golf in East Longmeadow among others, softball leagues in every town in the lower valley, world-class colleges and universities, fabulous cafes, bookstores, restaurants in Northampton, Amherst and so many other towns, the Montague Bookmill (bumper sticker: books you don’t need in a place you can’t find), Magic Wings (butterfly conservatory in South Deerfield), the Basketball Hall of Fame, sports teams such as the Springfield Falcons, the new Springfield Armor, UMass sports, Holyoke minor league baseball, boat tours in South Hadley and Northfield, oh, and I almost forgot the Big E that happens every September…
Outdoors – Aside from the CT River, kayaking, and hill/mountains already mentioned, there are scores of state forests, swimming, camping, hiking, and geocaching opportunities throughout all four counties of Western Mass. Notable hiking includes the Holyoke Range and Mount Tom, as well as the Appalachian Trail that goes through the Berkshires.
Scores of adorable downtowns – Many are in need of help, but there are still some great downtowns in Western Mass – Northampton, Amherst, Indian Orchard, Chicopee, Greenfield, Westfield, West Springfield, Florence, Easthampton, Shelburne Falls, Great Barrington, and I’m sure I’m missing others
Fresh Beer – Berkshire Brewing Co, Paper City, and Opa Opa. And the Northampton Brewery and the Dirty Truth in Northampton for enjoying them, among many other establishments.
Here’s a link to just some of the Western Mass photos I’ve taken over the years.
Proximity – Lesley listed proximity to NYC or Boston. While those two cities have their appeal, there’s a vast wealth of wonder which is not urban. Within a three hour drive, you can get to ALL other New England states, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Rhode Island, Connecticut, as well as New York. Also, within a five hour drive is Canada, including Montreal. Notable charms within a few hour drive: Upstate New York, including the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, Albany, Schenectady, the Adirondacks, Lake George, Lake Placid, Plattsburgh. In Vermont, there’s Burlington, Lake Champlain and islands, Brattleboro, Windsor, Ascutney, Manchester, and ski resorts galore. In New Hampshire, there’s skiing, Lake Winnipesaukee, Squam Lake, camping, skiing, Manchester, Portsmouth, Keene, Concord, The Common Man restaurants. In Maine, there’s the beaches, resorts, Rockland, Portland, LL Bean, Kittery, lighthouses, islands, and lots o mooses. In RI, there’s Providence and Newport (including the mansions), and there’s too much in CT to even begin listing all that that state has to offer, including wineries, beaches, camping, Hartford, adorable downtowns, restaurants, steam train rides, etc
And if you expand your horizons a bit further, within a day’s drive is Bar Harbor, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Niagara Falls, Buffalo, Toronto, Quebec City, and Washington DC.
But bottom line are the people. People who are friendly, genuine, interesting, and most importantly, care about where they live, and the other people who share their love of all that is Western Mass. Of course, my number one reason why I love it here is that this is where my family and friends live. But aside from that, they all love it here for all the reasons listed above.
Aside from the meager reasons listed above, I guess Western Mass doesn’t have too much to offer after all. ;)
What did I miss? Share it here or on Lesley’s blog!