The Franklin Regional Council of Governments (FRCOG), in partnership with the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission (BRPC) and the Franklin Land Trust (FLT) have received an award from the Executive Office of Environmental Affairs to explore a way to turn one of western Massachusetts’s strongest assets—its extensive privately-owned woodlands—into a nationally recognized economic advantage. The FRCOG and BRPC, with the assistance of the FLT, are conducting a regional planning and public outreach process to explore interest in a new partnership with State and Federal agencies for 20 towns in northwestern Massachusetts. The partnership could lead to a new model for “National Forest” designation which could provide federal funds and technical assistance to expand forestry activities on privately owned land and to support tourism based businesses. This potential designation would focus on forest-based economic development like recreational tourism, forest management, and research on new forest related manufacturing technologies.

The towns included in the study area are Ashfield, Buckland, Charlemont, Colrain, Conway, Hawley, Heath, Leyden, Monroe, Rowe, and Shelburne in Franklin County, and Adams, Cheshire, Clarksburg, Florida, New Ashford, North Adams, Savoy, Williamstown, and Windsor in Berkshire County. The Franklin County Public Information Session to present information and explore interest in this partnership is November 20th at 5:30 p.m. at the Shelburne-Buckland Community Center, 53 Main Street in Shelburne Falls. The Berkshire County Public Information Session is November 19th at 5:30 p.m. at the McCann Technical High School in North Adams. The Public Information Session will outline the key features of the potential partnership and designation. Equally important, it will provide municipal officials, landowners, foresters, tourism based businesses and town residents with an opportunity to provide input on key elements of the partnership and potential designation.

The National Forest designation could bring federal funding to purchase conservation easements from willing landowners, which would help ensure a permanent forest base to serve as the backbone for the forest economy. The U.S. Forest Service would also likely establish a visitor center in the project area and could provide additional tourist amenities. Participation in the National Forest designation would be voluntary. If enough towns support the idea, both the Massachusetts Legislature and the U.S. Congress would need to pass legislation creating the new designation. If you would like to attend the Franklin County session please RSVP to psloan@frcog.org. If you would like to attend the Berkshire County session please RSVP to TMatuszko@berkshireplanning.org.

Contact: Peggy Sloan, Director of Planning & Development – Franklin Regional Council of Governments; psloan@frcog.org; 413-774-3167 x133
Thomas Matuszko, Assistant Director, Berkshire Regional Planning Commission;
TMatuszko@berkshireplanning.org; 413-442-1521 x34

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