As a first-time attraction for residents and visitors, a free festival, the What’s Out There Weekend, is soon to land in the Berkshires with a big splash.
The event is described as a two-day celebration of Berkshire County’s most recognizable and less familiar landmarks. It was organized by the Washington, D.C.-based Cultural Landscape Foundation, working with the homegrown Berkshire Synergy Project.
At least 30 cultural landmarks, outdoor attractions and historic sites will host interpretive tours led by expert guides during the event on Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 21-22.
The goal, said foundation President Charles Birnbaum, is to bring the selected landscapes to life through the eyes of the architects who helped create them.
"People move through these places all the time, often without thinking of the landscape architecture," said Birnbaum, who founded the Rural Landscapes nonprofit organization in 1998.
The festival also helps jump-start the busy fall foliage season with special deals at area inns as well as discounts and reserved tee times at four historically and architecturally significant golf courses -- the Country Club of Pittsfield, Cranwell Golf Club in Lenox, Greenock Country Club in Lee and the Stockbridge Golf Club.
The foundation covers wide territory, ranging from historic homesteads to rural parks and gardens, imposing estates, college campuses, museums, farms and woodlands, old ballparks, cemeteries and cultural sites of historic significance.
"We aim to try to tell the broadest possible story to the broadest possible audience," Birnbaum said. "It’s also an opportunity to support heritage tourism."
Among the sites hosting free tours over the two-day weekend are well-known landmarks such as Park Square and Wahconah Park in Pittsfield, the Freight Yard Historic District in North Adams, Williams College and the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Hancock Shaker Village, The Mount, Ventfort Hall and Tanglewood, and less-visited destinations such as the W.E.B. Du Bois homestead in Great Barrington, Lime Kiln Farm Wildlife Sanctuary in Sheffield and Ashintully Gardens in Tyringham.
The foundation strongly urges reservations and a limit of five tours per visitor.
Berkshire County is the first non-urban destination for the organization’s annual What’s Out There Weekends, launched in 2010. Previous destinations included Washington, D.C., New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
As a frequent visitor, Birnbaum said the Berkshires were an obvious choice. "This is an emotional one for me," he emphasized, "because the setting of the county is unrivaled. There’s a wonderful narrative of nature and culture co-existing over time. That narrative is so rich and unique that we thought this was a great place to start."
Birnbaum described the weekends as an outgrowth of the foundation’s "critical dimension, our website. It’s how we do business." The database attracts 600,000 unique visitors a year. The on-site tours "bring the database to life and through great guides, connect the living landscape to the past and inform people how to manage change," he said.
The foundation’s budget for the weekend is about $50,000, said Birnbaum, including about $15,000 to produce a lavish coffee-table book -- "we’re leaving behind powerful tools in print and online so people have access to information about these cultural landscapes in perpetuity." The town of Lenox contributed $2,500.
He credited the Berkshire Synergy Project (BSP), founded by Stockbridge resident Adele Gravitz, for partnering to organize the festival and for reaching out to multiple local sites.
The BSP is a new arts-programming venture designed to forge connection between arts and non-arts organizations and events in the Berkshire region so participants can focus on their missions while reaching broader audiences.
Gravitz, who holds a master’s degree in landscape architecture, described the weekend event as a prime example of countywide collaboration and cross-pollination, and expressed the hope that it will become an annual late-September attraction. She noted it coincides with Lee Founders Weekend as well as the annual Lenox Tub Parade on Sept. 21.
According to Gravitz, the goals are to encourage stewardship by teaching people about the landscapes in their region. "It’s aimed at anyone interested in landscapes and for visitors who are just curious," she explained.
The two-day weekend benefits the participating sites by offering free marketing and promotion to people who might not be typically inclined to visit, she added.
"It’s a chance to let curiosity run wild, for free, so even if you’re a local, you might find an unfamiliar destination or an obscure place you don’t know about," she pointed out.
If you go
What: What’s Out There Weekend Berkshires, free guided tours of area landmarks
When: Sept. 21-22
FRIDAY, SEPT. 20
5 p.m.: Shakespeare & Company (behind-the-scenes tour), 70 Kemble St., Lenox. Meet at the Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre lobby.
6-7:15 p.m.: Launch Reception, Shakespeare & Company, Lenox. (RSVP at tclf.org/event/wotw-berkshires-launch-event)
SATURDAY, SEPT. 21
8:30-9:30 a.m.: Ice Glen, Stockbridge.
9-10 a.m.: Elm Court Estate & Inn, Lenox & Stockbridge.
10-11 a.m.: Ventfort Hall, Lenox.
10-11 a.m.: Berkshire Botanical Garden, Stockbridge.
10-11:30 a.m.: Park Square, Pittsfield.
10:30-Noon: Freight Yard Historic District, North Adams.
11-Noon: Naumkeag, Stockbridge.
11 a.m.-1 p.m.: Bartholomew’s Cobble (Hawk Watch), Sheffield (Ashley Falls).
11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.: Tanglewood, Lenox & Stockbridge.
Noon-1 p.m.: Wahconah Ball Park, Pittsfield.
12:30-1:30 p.m.: Chesterwood, Stockbridge.
1-2 p.m.: Bascom Lodge & Mt. Greylock, Lanesborough & North Adams.
1-2:30 p.m.: Bidwell House, Monterey.
1:15-2:15 p.m.: Tub Parade, Lenox.
2-3:30 p.m.: Springside Park, Hebert Arboretum, Pittsfield.
2-3 p.m.: Hancock Shaker Village, Pittsfield-Hancock.
3-4 p.m.: Housatonic River Walk, Great Barrington.
3-4 p.m.: Ashintully Gardens, Tyringham.
3-4:15 p.m.: Williams College, Williamstown.
4-5 p.m.: W.E.B. Du Bois National Historic Site, Great Barrington.
4:30-5:30 p.m.: Sterling & Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown.
SUNDAY, SEPT. 22
10-11 a.m.: Jacob’s Pillow, Becket.
10-11 a.m.: Stockbridge Main Street.
10 a.m.-Noon: Lime Kiln Farm Wildlife Sanctuary, Sheffield.
11 a.m.-Noon: Naumkeag, Stockbridge.
11 a.m.-Noon: Ashintully Gardens, Tyringham.
1-2:30 p.m.: Lee Town Park and Main Street.
1-2:30 p.m.: Laurel Hill & Mary Flynn Trail, Stockbridge. (Tour 1).
1-3 p.m.: Gould Farm, Monterey.
1-3 p.m.: Bartholomew’s Cobble (Nature Hike), Sheffield (Ashley Falls).
2-3 p.m.: Hancock Shaker Village, Pittsfield-Hancock.
3-4 p.m.: The Mount (Edith Wharton Restoration), Lenox.
3-4 p.m.: Laurel Hill & Mary Flynn Trail, Stockbridge. (Tour 2).