Wednesday, January 27, 2010

RIP the Greenfield Visitor Center

Back in the summer, I wrote a post about the Pioneer Valley Visitor Center in Greenfield as a potentially interesting ethnographic site--halfway between the "non-place" of a highway rest stop and the place-saturation of a local tourist info booth.

Well, it turns out that the 10-year-old Visitor Center is due to close on February 1, a casualty of the state's budget crisis. The facility costs about $130,000 a year to maintain, and about half of that has come from state funding which has now been cut. The Franklin County Chamber of Commerce, which picks up the rest of the tab, can't afford to pay the full amount, and in fact Chamber director Ann Hamilton estimates that the operation has run at a deficit of more than half a million dollars over the ten years that it's been in existence.

So it looks as though there will be no more Visitor-Center-brand jam or coffee beans in the foreseeable future--and no more surveying of vehicular visitors as I was doing this summer and fall. Chamber director Hamilton noted last spring that it was difficult to quantify the impact of tourism in Franklin County, because so much of it is in the form of hybrid kinds of travel, like parents visiting their children at the area's many boarding schools and colleges. That was certainly borne out by my interviewing--it seemed as though the majority of the people I spoke with were on family visits of one sort or another. The Visitor Center seemed appropriate to those hybrid road trips, creating a bit of "hereness" in its strangely out-of-the-way location. I'll have to think of whether there's another spot on Route 2 that will offer such a useful place for talking with drivers--methodologically tricky if you don't happen to be in the car with them!

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