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Two Berkshire Organizations, One Free Program To Discover Nature

Gabrielle K. Murphy
BNRC volunteers at work at The Boulders in Dalton, Massachusetts.

Two Berkshire organizations are teaming up to help residents fully experience the county this summer — and it’s all free.

When the Berkshire Natural Resources Council sat down with the Berkshire Athenaeum, they had one goal: “find more ways to get library patrons interested in going outside, going hiking, learning about nature,” Jenny Hansell told WAMC. She is President of the BNRC, a nonprofit tasked with environmental conservation and advocacy in the Berkshires. She’s optimistic about the partnership with the county’s largest public library.

“We’re calling it ‘Library in the Wilderness,’" said Hansell, "and it was actually the brainchild of Alex Geller, who’s the librarian at the Berkshire Athanaeum.”

“I was reading something about a program like this in either American Libraries or some public library journal where libraries were partnering with parks and rec departments and hiking groups to have backpacks that are ready for people to take out into the wilderness," said Geller. “A lot of safety preparedness stuff that you would find in hiking backpacks are cost prohibitive for a lot of people who would want to take advantage of their natural surroundings, and this way we take that burden and barrier away.”

“I’m actually looking at the contents of a backpack in front of me right now," said Hansell. “There are binoculars, there’s bug spray, there’s a compass, there’s trail maps so that they know where they’re going, there’s all kinds of wildlife guides — a little foldout guide on birds, one on wildflowers, one on butterflies and so on, there’s a first aid kit, there’s going to be ponchos, there’s a little guide to animal tracks, so if you see tracks in the mud or in the snow you know what you’re looking at.”

It’s a logical pairing of two public resources: The Berkshire Athanaeum’s downtown Pittsfield location gives it access to the densest population hub in the county, while The Berkshire Natural Resources Council has more than 11,000 acres of land free and open to the public at natural destinations across the Berkshires.

“Here in Pittsfield there’s one that’s very accessible called the Boulders,
 said Hansell. "And that one is wonderful because it’s right near the Walmart, you can actually even take the bus there if you don’t have a car, and it’s got a whole bunch of trails. What’s wonderful about each of these properties is that each one is very different, so the Boulders, the trees are very tall, and you feel like you’re walking through this cathedral of trees.”

Geller has the perfect literary accompaniment to a summer of discovery.

“What’s always a fun book to read is A Walk In The Woods by Bill Bryson, just gets you into that mindset," he told WAMC, "especially if you’re new to hiking, how one person decides to hike the Appalachian Trail with very little experience and how just with some encouragement, some can-do attitude, and some resources, that anything is possible.”

Saturday, the ‘Library in the Wilderness’ program kicks off at Boulders Reserve in Dalton at 10 a.m. A workshop about the program will follow at the Berkshire Athenaeum on June 30th from 10 a.m. until noon. For more, click here.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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