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Natural Resources Council Aims To Create Berkshire Trail Highway System

Imagine hiking from one end of the Berkshires to the other without having to pitch a tent, boil water or go days without a shower. WAMC is on the trail of an organization looking to make that a reality.The scenery and terrain of Hollow Fields Reserve in Richmond, Massachusetts is nature at its finest, but total immersion into the great outdoors is limited. Trails stay within the 139 acres and the most practical way to get to the reserve is by — you guessed it — car.

“We’ve got lots of wonderful day trips and our idea is can we string these together into a 5-day trip with stops at an inn or a bed and breakfast every night so you can refresh, reflex and get ready for another great day of walking in the Berkshires,” said Tad Ames, president of the Berkshire Natural Resources Council.

The nonprofit, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2017, is embarking on a major effort that it’s calling The Berkshire High Road.

“The vision is to link our abundant conservation land together into a continuous network by acquiring parcels or trail easements to link them together,” Ames said. “Then take that whole network of conservation lands and connect it into town centers so we can bring conservation and community together.”

Partly inspired by England’s Coast to Coast walk and the Camino de Santiago in Spain, the High Road involves about 200 miles of trails. Ames says plotting exact trail locations and securing financial support are part of making the 20-year vision a reality. In the very early stages, it’s unclear if the group will face any opposition.

“We’re trying to create a $5 million fund to seed the High Road campaign,” Ames said. “Right now we are just ending the quiet phase of that and we are a little north of $4 million in donations received. So we are trying to shoot for the $5 million goal if not by the end of this year, certainly in time for our 50th anniversary next year.”

About $4.5 million will be used to quicken the pace of securing land and easements and on long-term stewardship. The remaining amount will be used to build trails and parking areas. BNRC says about 80 percent of the land needed for the project is already protected through the council, town land trusts and other environmental agencies. The council believes another 50,000 acres is necessary. The cost is roughly estimated at $100 million.

“But in a way it boils down to the area around Lenox, which in some ways is the crossroads of the Berkshires where culture and nature meet,” Ames said. “We have a property near Lenox called Olivia’s Overlook on a mountain ridge called Yokun Ridge. Yokun Ridge stretches from Pittsfield to Stockbridge. That’s a place we’ve been working on since the 1970s with the idea that someday we may be able to conserve all the high ground on that mountain and create a trail, if not from end to end at least getting close to there.”

Ames says BNRC is the right group to pull this off because it frequently works with government agencies, statewide organizations like the Trustees of Reservations and area landowners, but even more importantly its only focus is the Berkshires. In 2015, the organization had a $1.78 million budget with a staff of seven people.

“We for a long time, as one of our board members joked, we’re the best kept secret in Berkshire County,” Ames said. “We realized that if we want to grow and have the impact and allow our donors to have the impact on the Berkshire that they dream of that we can’t be a best kept secret. We need to raise our profile, get out into the community and get more engaged.”

Most BNRC land is also open to hunters, mountain bikers, dogs and horses. And with the High Road in the forefront, the council hopes more and more people will witness what Judith Shaw did on a regular stroll through Hollow Fields.

“This is the most beautiful place to walk in the world,” said Shaw.

Click here for more information on the Berkshire High Road.

Jim is WAMC’s Associate News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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