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A pinnacle of culture?

Partners shape a creative mission for state-owned lodge



Contributing writer

ADAMS, Mass.
Brothers Peter and John Dudek and their business partner Brad Parsons are extending the vertical reach of the culture and the creative economy in the Berkshires.

Three years ago, the men took over operation of Bascom Lodge, a historic structure at the summit of Mount Greylock, the highest point in Massachusetts.

Operating as the Bascom Lodge Group, they manage the property under a long-term lease with the Historic Curatorship Program of the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation.

They run a restaurant and lodging business at the lodge from May through October, and they also present an eclectic schedule of lectures, musical performances, workshops, artists' residencies and other activities related to the arts, the environment and the heritage of the region. Most of these activities are free and open to the public.

The offerings so far this year have ranged from a demonstration by a local beekeeping association to a bagpipe concert, a poetry reading and a presentation by two Spanish artists on a mural they’re creating at the Mohawk Theater in North Adams.

Still to come this summer are programs on local gardens and historic homes, an Aug. 5 performance by Marafanyi Drum, Dance & Song, an all-night drawing marathon for sketchers on Aug. 6, and an Aug. 26 theater performance by Main Street Stage. (A complete schedule is available at http://bascomlodge.net.)

Bascom Lodge is a large Arts and Crafts-style structure, built of wood and stone in the 1930s at the peak of the 11,000-acre Mount Greylock State Reservation. It was a project of the Civilian Conservation Corps, a federal jobs program during the Depression.

The lodge was intended to accommodate hikers and other visitors to the mountain, which is located on the Appalachian Trail. The summit also includes the landmark Veterans War Memorial Tower as well as public parking and viewing areas.

Over the years, the state-owned lodge had various operators, including the Appalachian Mountain Club and the Nature's Classroom educational program.

In 2007, however, Bascom Lodge was closed for two years to allow for reconstruction of the road to the summit. In preparation for Greylock's reopening in 2009, the state included the structure in its Historic Curatorship Program and issued a request for proposals for curators for the facility. The Dudeks and Parsons applied, and their proposal was accepted for a 25-year lease.

The Historic Curatorship Program was started in the 1990s to handle underused but historically significant houses and other buildings on state-owned lands. In a competitive process, private curators are awarded a long-term lease for the right to live and work in these facilities in exchange for agreements to restore and maintain them in ways that are compatible with their historic character and surroundings.

High altitude, special challenges

Bascom Lodge Group is a for-profit business, earning its income from food sales at its cafe and restaurant, guest accommodations in the lodge and rental of the facilities for weddings and other private gatherings. But at least at first, much of this revenue is being reinvested into restoration of the physical structure.

“We won’t be drawing profits until the conclusion of the restoration work,” John Dudek explained. “Initially we had a 10-year plan for that, but we have gotten more work done more quickly than expected, so we could be finished within about five years.”

The state set an overall valuation of the lease at $500,000, which is reimbursed by the Bascom Lodge Group over time through its investment and work on the property. In addition, a portion of a $1 million federal matching grant to the state for repairs to the summit and Memorial Tower will provide additional funds for the lodge restoration.

The physical restoration is a big job. Dudek pointed out that the building basically had been gutted, and it had suffered damage from being unused, so they had to start work on the interior from scratch.

Their agreement with the state requires them to adhere to strict guidelines for historical accuracy, including such details as the choice of furniture and fixtures.

“But we also have to satisfy modern codes, so there is a constant balance,” Dudek said.

The requirements for authenticity apply beyond the building itself. In landscaping and gardens, for example, the lodge’s operators must only use plants that are native to the mountain’s ecosystem.

There are other unusual issues involved in running a business at the top of a mountain peak.

“One ongoing challenge is the fact that no one delivers up here or picks up from here,” Dudek said. “So every day we have to drive a truck down to the visitors center at the base of the mountain to get our supplies and to bring down our trash.”

The summit of Greylock also features some extreme weather, and transition between seasons can be unpredictable.

“Last year, we had planned to operate to the end of October,” Dudek recalled. “But then there was a freak October snowstorm. So we were frantically gathering up everything we could to bring down with us, because we didn’t know whether we’d be able to return that year. But then the following week, it was like spring.”

Careers off the mountain

The Dudek brothers grew up in Adams. As young adults, they moved to New York City to pursue their education and careers.

Peter is a sculptor who teaches art at Hunter College and at the School of Visual Arts in New York. John went into the restaurant industry and then became a private chef for several families in Manhattan. Parsons, whom John met in New York, is a textile designer who works in the fabric industry.

The three men continue to work at their other careers in New York and divide their time between the city and the Berkshires.

The Bascom Lodge venture grew out of their combined interests. Growing up in Adams, the Dudeks had spent a great deal of time on Greylock and continued to have a strong affinity for the mountain.

They regularly returned to the Berkshires as adults. Several years ago, John Dudek and Brad Parsons were planning to build a house in Cummington (which they have completed), and to start a cafe in Pittsfield.

Peter Dudek, meanwhile, had been working as the director of the Storefront Artist Project in downtown Pittsfield.

“Through the Storefront Artist Project, I was very involved in the creative community in the Berkshires and had become acquainted with artists and organizations,” Peter recalled. “When I heard that the state was seeking curators for Bascom Lodge, I saw interesting possibilities for combining those interests with my brother’s and Brad's plans for a restaurant. They agreed, and we applied.”

The three partners each have primary areas of responsibility. Peter Dudek organizes the schedule of activities and programs; his brother manages the restaurant and lodge and is the chef, and Parsons oversees the physical restoration and landscaping, in addition to preparing desserts and other fare at the restaurant.

There are also about 10 employees.

Cultural mission

Peter Dudek said he approaches the Bascom Lodge’s programming as a partnership with the community.

“The goal is to connect the lodge and Greylock to the arts and the community, so I encourage collaborations,” he said. “This provides artists and organizations with an additional platform and an opportunity to promote their other activities.”

The lodge, for example, has joined with the Upper Housatonic Valley National Heritage Area to organize a Wednesday evening “Talk and Dine” series. The events include free presentations on various subjects, with the option for those attending to linger at the lodge and buy dinner.

Another collaboration involves a series of workshops sponsored by IS183, the art school in Stockbridge. Fees for the workshops go to the artists who serve as instructors.

This month, the national magazine Orion, based in Great Barrington, will hold a launch party for its new book, “Thirty-Year Plan: Thirty Writers on What We Need to Build a Better Future,” at 6 p.m. Sunday, July 8, at the lodge. The public event will feature writers Elizabeth Kolbert, Bill McKibben, and Ginger Strand.

Bascom Lodge also sponsors an artist residency program, giving individual artists an opportunity to stay at the lodge for a period of time to pursue creative projects and then give public presentations of their work.

Although these programs help the lodge by bringing potential customers to the summit, they’re primarily a community service, the partners said.

“Some people come for the events and then stay for dinner, but it’s not a large percentage,” John Dudek said. “It helps, but it’s not a major source of our business.”

Peter added that attendance at the events varies.

“Some presenters have a larger following or particular subjects attract more people than others,” he said. “I’m more concerned with the quality of the activities than the numbers when I am planning the schedule.”

The market for the lodge and restaurant is varied. Although it is not a short drive to the top of Greylock, the mountain offers a large built-in customer base as a major visitors' attraction.

“Between 100,000 and 250,000 people visit Greylock annually during the months it is open, which is a substantial market to start from,” John Dudek said.

During the day, the partners operate a cafe that serves soup, sandwiches and salads for hikers and other visitors to the summit. In the evenings, they run a restaurant with a 45-seat dining room and a menu that features a single fixed-price, three-course meal with an ethnic theme that changes daily (plus a vegetarian alternative) at prices ranging from $28 for poultry and vegetarian dishes to $30 to $32 for meat or fish.

The lodge also has sleeping accommodations, with private rooms for $125 to $150 per night and two co-ed group rooms, each with 10 bunk beds, for $35 per person.

Another growing source of income is rental of lodge facilities for private functions such as weddings, family reunions and other gatherings.

Although they have had to constantly deal with the unexpected, the partners said the venture has met their expectations.

“There are always surprises, which keeps it interesting,” John Dudek said. “But generally everything has been going according to plan. Business has had its ups and downs, but it averages out well. So we expect to be here for the long run.”

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