The Family Friendly Berkshires
The Family Friendly Berkshires: A Place to Dig Culture—and Dinosaurs
Dipping your feet in a rushing stream, flying kites on a spectacular open hillside, picnicking amid a lush mountain landscape: Images of summer in the country conjure up powerful memories—and are why many of us have to visit a pastoral spot to vacation. Our children love rural adventures, too, but youngsters today need more than simple pleasures. Berkshire County’s year round mix of breathtaking natural scenery, kid-friendly cultural attractions—many with children’s programming and discounts—and exciting outdoor activities is one big reason so many families come to visit.
Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, is one of the nation’s finest small museums and one of the few where art, history and the natural world are displayed in one place. Best of all, it is certifiably “unstuffy.” “Wally,” an imposing 10-foot high, 26-foot long Stegosaurus, graces the front lawn, capturing kids’ attention at once. Inside, marvel at the diverse permanent collection in 18 galleries on three floors. The museum’s magnificent 26-tank aquarium includes an Atlantic Tidal Pool “Touch Tank” for kids. Natural Science comprises the museum’s largest collection, where the biggest attraction is a “Dinosaurs and Paleontology” gallery that shows how paleontologists use fossils and other evidence to understand the prehistoric world. Here the “Dino Dig” lets everyone get in the act—actually digging down to touchable replicas of dinosaur bones. The art collection includes ancient art from around the world and 14th-19th century European art, but don’t overlook the Refrigerator Art Gallery, featuring children’s artwork in (or “on”) a familiar setting. Kid’s programs run all summer, with a variety of day- and week-long camps, from “Art & Crafts Camp” to “Native American Day Camp.”
The Sterling & Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, presents “family days” year round, while Kidspace at MASS MoCA is a collaborative project between the Williams College Museum of Art, The Clark and Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA). This art gallery and studio space in the heart of North Adams’ MoCA complex is designed especially for students, teachers, and families.
Hancock Shaker Village, Pittsfield, admits children 12 and under free. Youngsters delight in meeting the Village’s historic breeds of livestock in the farmyard and pastures. The Discovery Room offers hands on activities such as trying on Shaker-style clothing, spinning wool and weaving, and milking Mary Jane, a life-sized Holstein cow replica. Sheep Hill, Williamstown, owned by the Williamstown Rural Lands Foundation, offers picnicking, hiking and birdwatching and seasonal events including snowshoe, full moon and firefly hikes; star gazing; kids nature programs; and tracking workshops.
In North Adams, admission is free to the Visitors Center at Western Gateway Heritage State Park, where imaginative exhibits unveil the story behind the Hoosac Tunnel. Two hundred men lost their lives as the tunnel, one of the greatest engineering feats of the 19th century, was dug nearly five miles through Hoosac Mountain, linking Massachusetts to Albany, NY. Rail aficionados young and old will also enjoy the Berkshire Scenic Railway Museum, Lenox. There they can ride along the River between Lenox and Stockbridge as they enjoy a narrated diesel hauled 20 mile trip in vintage coaches.
At summer camps throughout Berkshire County youngsters can choose traditional programs or specialize in art, dance, music, theater and sports, and even character building and leadership development. Local ski areas also offer exciting family activities in summer. These include waterslides and go carts at Bousquet Ski Resort & Summer Family Fun Center, Pittsfield, and a Mountain Coaster, rock climbing wall and Euro-Bungee Trampoline, among other attractions, at Jiminy Peak Mountain Adventure Park, Hancock.
Agriculture is clearly a vital part of county life, and several Berkshire farms offer families an up-close look. In Hancock, the 600-acre Ioka Valley Farm and Uncle Don’s Barnyard provide “agri-entertainment,” including a hay maze, hayrides, pedal tractors and petting animals. A riding day camp, trail riding and hunt seat and dressage instruction are among the offerings for horse-loving families at Undermountain Farm, Lenox.