Beverage trail to ‘connect the dots’ between producers and patrons

— Photo from Jeff Perlee

Albany County legislators, from left, Matthew Peter, Wanda Willingham, and Jeff Perlee smile on Monday evening just after the resolution they backed, to create an Albany County Beverage Trail, was approved. The three make up the legislature’s COVID Economic Task Force.

ALBANY COUNTY — Close-to-home agritourism got a boost on Monday night when the county legislature unanimously passed a measure to create a countywide beverage trail, featuring local breweries, cideries, distilleries, and wineries.

The resolution allocates $30,000 to create “wayfinding signs” and also authorizes submitting an application to the state’s Department of Agriculture and Markets for the designation of the Albany County Beverage Trail. The legislature intends to include more funding for the beverage trail in its 2023 budget.

“One rare bright spot coming out of the pandemic is that consumers looked for — and found — ways to spend their entertainment dollars closer to home, often at places that offered a chance to be outdoors in a beautiful natural setting,” said legislator Jeff Perle, who represents Altamont and part of the Hilltowns.

“In Albany County, the Helderberg region saw a major increase in day visitors to our preserves, parks, orchards and farms, visits that drive economic activity, grow jobs and preserve open space,” Perlee went on in an email to The Enterprise on Tuesday. “The area around Altamont alone has seen three new restaurants, three craft brew pubs, and a beautiful destination brewery all open in response to this increased interest and demand.

“We can sustain and build on this if we tie together the various locations through the type of smart, common marketing and collaboration that this new Beverage Trail Program represents.”

The sponsor of the resolution, legislator Matthew Peter — representing Center Square, Pine Hills, Washington Park, and Park South in Albany — serves on the COVID Economic Task Force with Perlee and Wanda Willingham, who represents Albany’s Arbor Hill.

 “The establishment of the trail is a bipartisan recommendation from the COVID Economic Task Force, which I am proud to be a part of …,” said Peter in a release from the legislature’s majority office. Peter and Willingham are Democrats; Perlee is a Republican.

Peter also said the beverage trail will increase sales and tourism throughout the county.

“The establishment of funding for advertising, enhancement and support for the new trail will go a long way in connecting the dots between the local producers and the patrons eager to support them,” said Chairman Andrew Joyce in the release. “This is a product of the COVID Economic Recovery Task Force’s efforts to help rebuild our local economies in new ways.”

Two years ago, soon after the task force was formed, Perlee told The Enterprise, “We may have an opportunity as people’s ideas of vacation or how to use their leisure time has changed.” Rather than getting on an airplane, he noted, people are vacationing closer to home.

“They still feel the desire to get out of the house … There have been large upticks at the Christman Preserve and Thacher Park,” said Perlee, who saw his role as asking, “How can the county connect consumers with newfound interests to doing something close to home?”

Perlee noted that governments are dependent on businesses for sales-tax revenues. He said Crossgates Mall, located in Guilderland that draws regional customers, “has been our backbone in Albany County.”

With more online shopping, accelerated by the pandemic, he said, “As that is dispersed through Amazon … we lose in the future a major advantage for Albany County.”

Willingham said at that time, “Economic development is going to be critical in the upcoming year to get back on sure footing … I think about everybody, not just my community. That’s why these small businesses are very important. We need to work together.”

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