A visitor’s view of Amherst

Thursday, September 20, 2018

They’ve come from all over the country and world. They’re young, old, single or part of large families. They’re here to stop in for a day or so, teach for a semester, move here with their young families or retire. They are all visitors to the town of Amherst that we greet daily at the Visitor Information Center and who have a unique perspective that we, the townies, may have lost (or just misplaced momentarily). These folks love our town! For many of us in the trenches of Amherst for years, who get caught up in the political changes, new development patterns and aged schools, it can be hard to see the beautiful forest behind the weary trees. But our visitors bring a new perspective and enthusiasm when they come. It’s all new to them and their wonder and excitement about it is tangible and contagious.

They get excited about the cultural activities like visiting Emily’s home or taking in a movie at the Cinema. They get excited about grabbing a bike and hitting the rail trail or learning that their grandchildren can take swim lessons at our local pools. And so many more things that they can do, see, learn and explore that we have taken for granted. Just in downtown alone there are shops to visit, books to read, gardens to wander through and centuries of history to learn about. We locals, who are often deep in the minutiae of making this a great place to live, forget that for someone not from here, it is already an awesome town.

The steady stream of people through the Visitor Information Center came to Amherst for a purpose but stayed and will come again because they fell in love with our town. They see new housing in our downtown which means economic health. They see clean streets and bright flowers which indicates pride in our community. And they see all ages of folks that work, live and play in a place that is welcoming to diversity in all its forms.

We miss seeing all that when we get too close to the issues that seem to be dividing us. We are now the city known as The Town of Amherst. Many have worked hard to create a town that has the resources and energy to be an active, 21st century community that takes care of its students, seniors and homeless. These people have come here willingly and gladly because Amherst is pretty, unique, different, fun, interesting and any other adjective you can come up with.

I, personally, have been truly enjoying all the people I’ve gotten to meet and chat with. The places I’ve learned about and the varied and interesting reasons why people ended up in Amherst. Recently I have been intrigued by the amount of people who have come in from all over the globe. It seems we have become a significant destination for international travelers either on a pilgrimage to visit with Emily, to study or teach at one of our fabulous schools, or to visit the scenic Connecticut River Valley. Some have come to live here with their children and extended families. That is particularly heartening to me.

There are new generations of parents, students and families that arrive in Amherst every year and learn about our great town. Along with children for our schools, professionals for our Boards and Committees, and consumers for our downtown and village centers, they bring a new vision and focus. And they make us take a look around ourselves to appreciate what we have that is so very special. Yes, we are in the thick of a governmental shift and have some aging infrastructure systems, but we’ve still got it good. Our visitors and new neighbors see an Amherst that we should never try to lose sight of, despite whatever trees might be obscuring our view.

Sarah la Cour, of Amherst, is executive director of the Amherst Business Improvement District.