Make Connections: Travel The High Road Through Berkshire County
All photos courtesy of BNRC.
By Amy Krzanik
As walkers, hikers, cross-country skiers and snowshoers know, the Berkshires is one of the best places to work up a sweat while you “bathe in nature.” Unfortunately, you’ll have to carry your own cold water or hot drink and snack with you, because you’ll be far away from any amenities. And you’ll have to have a car to drive to the trailheads. There’s planning that needs to go into even a casual outing. But those inconveniences might not exist for long if Berkshire Natural Resources Council (BNRC) has anything to say about it.
Just this month, BNRC launched The High Road capital campaign to the public with the hope of raising the $5 million needed to create a system of linked trails that covers the entirety of Berkshire County and lets users hop on and off in more places. Two hundred miles of trails will traverse the ridge line (“the high road”), but will also dip into towns, where hikers can grab a coffee, meet up with friends for dinner and even stay overnight at one of the area’s inns or B&Bs.
Excited donors already have committed $4.25 million to the campaign during its “quiet phase,” says BNRC President Tad Ames. He says that being able to walk from one town to the next has captured people’s imagination. “This is a vision for all of Berkshire County,” he says. “Anyone who’s lived here for a while knows that things tend to be divided into north, central and south parts of the county, but our organization covers all of the Berkshires, from Florida Mountain to Mount Washington.”
The BNRC, for those who are not familiar, conserves and keeps land open for public use and enjoyment, with a special focus on public access to land. They also protect wildlife habit, farmland, and land that has scenic value.
“Wherever appropriate, we encourage people to get out and use the land,” says Ames. “We want conservation to be part of people’s daily lives.” To that end, the organization runs about 50 free, guided hikes a year. Sometimes the purpose will be to track wildlife in the snow, says Ames, or to bird-watch, but mostly the purpose is to introduce people to new places.
The High Road funding, which the organization hopes to have completed by its 50th birthday in September of 2017, will go to help the BNRC fill in the gaps or “missing pieces” between the 10,000-plus acres it owns and the 11,000 it preserves through easements. This will create a fully connected trail system that can provide lunchtime walks of 30 minutes or a 30-day vacation excursion through every town.
By building The High Road, with its paths through both wilderness and town centers, the BNRC hopes to connect the natural, social, cultural and economic lives of Berkshire County’s residents. And the organization isn’t content to simply protect what it already has, but wants to add to the area’s reputation as a first-class destination for both natural beauty and cultural experiences.
Ames hopes the project will encourage locals and tourists alike to visit parts of the county they may not have explored before. “Berkshire County is one place and one people,” he says. “Having our bigger towns do well is good for all of the Berkshires.” And soon it’ll be easier to start there and explore even more of them.