As I approached Great Barrington Airport in the 172P earlier this week, I was happy to hear other airplanes in the pattern for the same runway that I was planning to use after checking wind direction on the AWOS (automated weather observation system).
Over the years, I have found the wind to be rather fickle at this field, also known as Walter J Koladza Airport (KGBR), named for a World War II test pilot who used to own the place. I didn’t want to be the pilot who, from 10 miles out, declares “inbound for Runway 29” only to hear that 11 is the active. Darn—did that wind shift again?
There is no reason to be self-conscious about such things, especially here. After all, regulars call KGBR “the friendliest airport in the Northeast,” and they make a pretty good case. The usual airport fence is conspicuously absent, so people arriving by car, bike, or on foot feel welcome. This is also the kind of place where radio calls of “after you” ring out when several airplanes arrive at the fuel pump simultaneously. Years ago, the first time I flew in, the airport dog escorted me to the restroom.
Perhaps the best thing about this privately owned, public-use airport is that its manager, Joseph Solan, keeps crew cars handy for pilots who want to drive into town for a meal or just to look around. During this week’s visit, my teenage son and I got the keys to a ruby red Ford Taurus so we could enjoy breakfast at Great Barrington Eats on Main Street.
There are so many attractions in Great Barrington including restaurants, antiques, entertainment, and shopping. The availability of crew cars—once common but now rare in some areas—makes it easier to enjoy the visit, and it shows that airport staff are sensitive to pilots’ needs. You get a great feeling when someone you just met tosses you the keys to their car. Here are some places you might want to visit once you get into town.
Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center
Originally the Mahaiwe Theatre, this venue opened in 1905 and began staging vaudeville shows and—in the following decade—silent films. Its first renovation, during the 1930s, cut its capacity to 750 seats from 1,000 and changed its focus to movies. By the late 1980s, the threat of demolition loomed after a cinema chain acquired the aged building, but historic preservation efforts saved it. Today films are still on the schedule along with comedy, music, plays and more, listed on the events calendar.
An absolute Berkshires classic, the Guthrie Center is a must-see for people who have enjoyed listening to Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant.” It is located in the church mentioned in the song and was founded in 1991 as an interfaith organization focused on community development programs like free lunches, workshops, and musical lending libraries. There is also a weekly hootenanny and numerous performances. Check the center’s calendar to help plan your visit.
W.E.B. Du Bois National Historic Site
W.E.B. Du Bois, the author, sociologist, civil rights activist, and founding member of the NAACP, was born in his grandfather’s home in Great Barrington in 1868. While the house was demolished in 1954, the site was later developed as a memorial and became a National Historic Landmark in 1976. The home site is open to the public and includes an interpretive trail that is open during spring, summer, and fall. The trail leads visitors to the foundation of the original family homestead, and a separate downtown walking tour helps further establish Du Bois’ connection to Great Barrington.
Each year, more than 20,000 people hike to this highland’s 1,642-foot summit, Peeskawso Peak. Doing so is usually high on lists of things to do in Great Barrington in part because you get a lot in return for your effort, including dramatic views of the Housatonic River Valley. As the story goes, authors Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville found inspiration for future work including “Moby Dick” while spending time on the mountain. Last year, the trustees who own and manage the mountain dedicated the Mohican Monument Trail (formerly the Indian Monument Trail) to honor indigenous people who considered the area sacred.
There are many hotels, motels, and bed and breakfasts in and around Great Barrington that will satisfy the needs of most travelers. But The Barrington, located in one of the classic brick buildings that line Main Street, gives guests the feeling of being local residents. Walk out the front door and you are right in the middle of the vibrant bustle that characterizes the town, especially on weekends. Downtown restaurants and cafes, boutiques and shops, art galleries and entertainment are a short walk away.