Comprised of over 960 square miles of charming countryside in the Berkshires and Litchfield County, Connecticut, the Upper Housatonic Valley National Heritage Area is full of amazing places to get outside. To help showcase these wonderful features, Housatonic Heritage offers a wide variety of free heritage walks and bike and paddle tours throughout the summer and fall.“The region boasts many excellent natural features – rolling hills, open meadows, large expanses of forest – and the Housatonic River and our programming offers an accessible and fun way to learn about what’s right outside your backdoor,” Dan Bolognani, Executive Director of Housatonic Heritage says.
The Upper Housatonic Valley National Heritage Area’s heritage is so important in fact, that in 2006 the US Congress designated it a region with distinctive history and geography, nationally important resources, and a story of broad interest to tell. The Housatonic Heritage Commission was formed to foster partnerships with the government (federal, state and local), the private sector, and local communities to assist in identifying, preserving, interpreting and developing the historical, cultural, scenic and natural resources of the region for the educational and inspirational benefit of current and future generations.
Programs of Housatonic Heritage focus on the hidden stories of the region as there are many organizations that share a piece of a larger story and yet no one with the time or resources to gather the pieces together. They currently work with cultural, historical and natural resource partners to pull together all these pieces and help the partners to promote the ‘big picture’ to residents and visitors alike without duplicating existing efforts. They supplement efforts with strategic grants, thematic ‘trails’ that weave a story from smaller pieces, publicity for heritage assets, and more.
Examples of this include the Berkshire 18th Century Trail – an interpretive trail of 18th-century houses in the Berkshires that are open to the public. There are six distinct properties in the trail, an excellent collection of historic homes, tied together as a driving tour.
Similarly, the Housatonic River watershed region is well-known for its early industries (iron, wool, commercial electricity, paper) that shaped the modern world. A visit to the Crane Museum of Papermaking will provide insight into this ongoing industry – and the critical need for clean water and water power. The Housatonic River Walk in downtown Great Barrington shows this waterway at its best and also provides informational signs that explain the significance of the river to Great Barrington and the industries that powered the town.
The African-American Heritage Trail calls attention to the history of the region as a home to many forward-thinking people, who considered global social-justice issues – and acted on those thoughts – long before America embraced the movement. This trail l documents and explores the lives of Mumbett Freeman, W.E.B. Du Bois and Reverend Samuel Harrison among others.
Housatonic Heritage is helping to create and promote bicycling trails and offers a series of free, guided paddling trips on the Housatonic River along with their popular Heritage Walks each fall. Check out their great variety of outdoor events and be sure to opt outside on your next visit to the Berkshire.