The old cowshed at the Great Barrington Fairgrounds before it was condemned and demolished. Photo: David Scribner

Alan Chartock: I Publius — Fairgrounds proposals

There was a recent attempt to bring horse racing back, but for good reason, the people of the town were not in favor of the idea, so it would appear to be off the table at least for now. In the meantime, the “What shall we do with the fairgrounds” suggestion game continues.

At the southern end of Great Barrington, there are old fairgrounds that used to be known for horse racing. That changed years ago and with minor exceptions, the grounds have lain fallow.

There was a recent attempt to bring horse racing back, but for good reason, the people of the town were not in favor of the idea, so it would appear to be off the table — at least for now. In the meantime, the “What shall we do with the fairgrounds” suggestion game continues. One of my neighbors, Sharon Gregory, came up with a list of possibilities that shows really good thinking.

It’s possible that one of my own objections to horse racing will now be used to shoot down these good ideas. Some folks will think that anything that brings people to the southern end of town — which is now fairly crowded, what with Guido’s, the Big Y, the Great Barrington bagel shop, doctors for pets and humans and much more — is a bad idea. Yet there are some really good possibilities. So here goes.

One thought is to make the horsetrack into a human track. There is nothing better for the human body and psyche than walking. When I learned that my hero, Dr. Fauci, walks 5 miles a day, I knew this was a good idea. I walk about 4 or 5 miles a day and for the most part, I have to share the road with cars that often go too fast. Someone could put up a concession stand and some of the profits could go toward the expense of keeping the place in good repair.

Another possibility might be to use the property for drive-in movies. I think that is a splendid idea. With the COVID-19 pandemic or its successors likely to be around for some time, this is the ideal venue for social distancing. There’s no question that people will be fine in their cars. It might make real sense for the always-successful entrepreneur Richard Stanley to try it out. Of course, the Triplex concept of playing several movies at once may need some jiggering if money is to be made, as it is now, on concessions. Stanley is a genius and he can figure it out.

Another of Sharon’s ideas is to use the property for extensive botanical gardens. There are lots of possibilities here. People could have individual garden plots. I have been very impressed with the various ways that some wonderful folks have come up with ideas to put food on the tables of our neighbors who need the help. We already have the Berkshire Botanical Garden, but this project could be modeled differently and more accessibly for the people of the town. You really can’t have too much food or too many flowers, right?

In the winter, we could have ice skating. There’s nothing like a cup of hot chocolate when you get off the ice and are nursing a bruised fanny that you may have fallen on. A concessionaire could rent skates. Assuming that we are still social distancing, skating, properly thought through, could keep people apart.

Or what about a sculpture park? I really like this one. As some might know, there is a giant metal rose on our front lawn and a magnificent sculpture by Roger Phillips of which we are very proud. To do this right, you will need space and, in conjunction with all the other possibilities we have raised, it could certainly be done.

You, dear readers, might have ideas of your own. Of course, we don’t own the fairgrounds, but we are lucky that some good folks do. Those very people have discussed the future of the fairgrounds from time to time with our philanthropic community. We will now see just how committed they are to the town and to all the people who live here.