$1.12 million face-lift in the works at Pleasant Valley

BY CLARENCE FANTO

Eagle correspondent

LENOX — Now that Mass Audubon’s summer nature camp for youngsters has wrapped for the season, it’s full speed ahead for the major expansion project at Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary.

Work began last month to enlarge and modernize the sanctuary’s aging facilities, a $1.12 million buildout funded by Mass Audubon’s “Opening Doors to Nature” capital campaign.

So far, nearly $1 million has been raised, including $200,000 from the Massachusetts Cultural Council Facilities Fund, $300,000 from a Lenox Community Preservation Act grant approved by town meeting voters in May 2019, and from donations from individual supporters.

Renovation and expansion of the program barn, built around 1790, will create an enhanced welcome center, combined with the existing main office headquarters where visitors check in. The new building will serve some functions typical of a visitors center, such as educational information and restrooms, and when the office building is closed, it also will provide orientation to trails. The barn, currently a community meeting and program space, is one of the oldest structures still standing in Lenox.

“This project is ready to go, and that’s why we need the community’s support now to close the campaign funding gap,” Mass Audubon President David O’Neill stated.

He explained that the improvements will allow Pleasant Valley to serve as a “21st-century ‘base camp’ for contemporary programming and outreach into the region’s varied and diverse communities.”

“Pleasant Valley has long been regarded as a hidden gem,” O’Neill said in a prepared statement. “As a result of this project, it will offer both increased capacity and accessibility, while allowing staff to more fully realize the sanctuary’s potential as a respected resource for the greater Berkshire community.”

The energy-efficient addition to the program barn includes a lobby with interactive educational displays, trail maps of local properties, expanded decking for outdoor events, bird-watching and wildlife viewing, access to modern restrooms and a small, accessible kitchen.

When completed next spring, according to construction timetables, the welcome center will be open from dawn to dusk not only for sanctuary visitors, but also for anyone on their way to other natural areas in the Berkshires. The project also will allow Pleasant Valley to increase capacity, and serve as a regional nature and environmental resource.

Meanwhile, Pleasant Valley remains open, under COVID-19 health and safety guidelines, for public programming and trail walks and hikes.

Admission to the bird and wildlife sanctuary, founded in 1929, is free for Lenox residents. The 1,400-acre property includes 7 miles of trails. At least 12,000 people passed through the visitor center last year, and Mass Audubon’s education programs in the Berkshires served 1,300 students from 14 schools.

Mass Audubon has stated that the project’s improvements will “broaden opportunities and experiences for visitors of all backgrounds, ages and abilities, as they connect with nature. With a new emphasis on positioning the Berkshires as a destination for recreational activities, Pleasant Valley is poised to become an even more relevant resource for information on the outdoors and nature.”

A limited in-person groundbreaking event, available remotely as well, is expected to be scheduled for late September.

In addition to providing “a more welcoming experience” and to better serve visiting school participants, the project would allow expansion of the Berkshire Nature Camp and expanded hosting of public events while enhancing program collaboration with local organizations such as Tanglewood, Kripalu, Community Access to the Arts and Canyon Ranch.

The 1,864-square-foot barn also could host “revenue-generating weddings, events and meetings, and accommodate special events, trainings, concerts and community group meetings,” Mass Audubon has said.

Clarence Fanto can be reached at cfanto@yahoo.com, on Twitter @ BE_cfanto or at 413-637-2551.