Thursday July 4, 2013

STOCKBRIDGE -- Walking through a shady trail on a warm summer day, you may notice a black and brown, fuzzy caterpillar making its way up a hemlock tree, or catch a glimpse of a porcupine sneaking off into a shelter of fallen logs.

If the trail is well made, however, you won’t notice that the original landscape has been reconstructed.

"The goal of creating a trail is to make it look like it’s been there forever, untouched by humans," said Amanda L’Etoile, the trails and outreach coordinator of Berkshire Natural Resources Council (BNRC), where she has been working full-time for two years.

Volunteers of BNRC have begun work on re-opening the Brothers Trail, which will complete a loop at the Yokun Ridge Reserve. The trail begins where Old Bald Head Road meets the main road. It crosses the stone path of Shadowbrook, a small stream of water, and then levels off into the three-quarters-of-a-mile-long trail leading to the Charcoal Trail.

According to BNRC, the Charcoal Trail got its name from the remaining charcoal pits along the trail.

Hikers can access the Charcoal Trail or Michael Walsh Trail to reach the lookout point known as Olivia’s Overlook. From this lookout, travelers can see Lake Mackinac, also known as the Stockbridge Bowl, with views of Monument Mountain and the Richmond Valley.

The land was donated by the Stokes, a family of conservationists in Stockbridge who owned the Shadowbrook estate.


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The Brothers Trail is named for Anson and Isaac Stokes, who were among BNRC’s first land donors. Along with their sister, Olivia, and her husband, J.D. Hatch, they combined to conserve nearly 200 acres at and around Olivia’s Overlook.

Abraham Ames of Lakeville, Conn., is working as a summer intern for BNRC. He is one of the volunteers helping to construct this trail.

"It’s satisfying to see it happening in front of me," he said. "This is something that’s going to be here forever, more or less."

If you go...

What: Berkshire Natural Resources Council is looking for volunteers to help create the Brothers Trail. No experience needed -- training provided on the spot.

When: Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., in July

Where: From Olivia’s Overlook in Lenox, follow the Charcoal Trail downhill to the "trail work" sign and follow the rough path.

Bring: Work gloves, water, snacks or lunch, and appropriate attire.

Information: aletoile@bnrc.net or (413) 499-0596

BNRC guided hikes

Walk on BNRC trails throughout the summer. See online for full calendar.

Call to register for hikes and official meeting locations.

Where: Basin Pond loop hike to historic dam ruins in Lee -- easy pace, 3 miles in 2 hours

When: Thursday, July 11, 10 a.m. to noon

Where: Stevens Glen. Family-friendly hike over bridges, leading to a view of a waterfall 1.4 miles, 1-11.5 hours.

When: Saturday, July 20, 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

Where: Bob’s way. Varied landscapes and slight elevation. 3-4 miles, 2 hours.

When: Wednesday, July 24, 10 a.m. to noon

Where: Meteor Shower at Steepletop. Trail experts will guide the way for this evening hike to one of the best places to see the stars and meteor showers. 2-3 miles, 2 hours.

When: Friday, July 26, 8:30-11 p.m.

Where: Help put the final touches on the Brothers Trail and enjoy a celebratory lunch.

When: Saturday, July 27, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

He is excited for other generations to visit this trail in future years, while knowing that he helped create this landmark.

Most hikers don’t realize the amount of work that goes into building a trail.

"First we clear the branches, and that is the easy part," L’Etoile said. "Many people think that’s the only step to creating a trail, but there is actual groundwork to be done."

She said the ground is very malleable, and to create a trail that will last a long time the land needs to be cut and packed down properly. It’s important to plan for effects of winter months and water runoff. The volunteers do a lot of tread work to make the ground level.

"We fill in the shallow deposits to create a long-lasting tread surface," she said.

L’Etoile expects many hikers to travel along the trail once it opens.

"The trail will be pretty well beaten down by September," she said.

BNRC summer intern Rian Rossetti of Westwood finds the logistics behind creating the trail terrain interesting. A lot of work goes into making a trail accessible while still appearing natural.

"It’s something I never thought of before when I use trails," she said.

L’Etoile said funding and generous support from the Nion Robert Thieriot Foundation and the Kripalu Yoga Center, which is next door to the new trail, made the trail construction possible. Community members are welcome to assist with trail creation, no experience required.