STOCKBRIDGE — A proposal to carve out a hiking trail from Lake Averic, the town's water supply, to Olivia's Overlook on the Stockbridge-Lenox line has been withdrawn after the Sewer and Water Commission voted unanimously to reject the idea.
The route suggested by the Berkshire Natural Resources Council would have passed through watershed territory, separated from the lake by at least 1,200 feet of woodlands at its closest point to the lake.
But the sewer and water commissioners were concerned that hikers could wander off the trail into the sensitive area bordering the reservoir.
At this past week's Select Board meeting, BNRC President Tad Ames said the South Yokun Ridge Trail plan could be revived.
"If the town of Stockbridge ever wishes to revisit the situation and reconsider a walking trail along the ridge line, we'd be very happy to come back and work with you," he said.
The trail would have formed a southern link to an interconnected series of hiking routes dubbed the Berkshire High Road by the BNRC.
"What we discovered was that we [the Select Board] had no jurisdiction," said Selectman Stephen Shatz, since the perimeter of the town reservoir is controlled by the Sewer and Water Commission.
The commission has sole authority over three parcels of adjacent land through legislation passed in 1972 when the town took over a private water company in the vicinity.
As a result, the Select Board had no say in the decision on whether to approve the BNRC's application for a trailhead off Averic Road and subsequent construction of the trail.
The proposal had been discussed at two previous Select Board meetings, resulting in split opinions among the members, "which means nothing since we have no authority to grant permission to construct the trail through the watershed," Shatz said.
"I'm very disappointed in the Sewer and Water Commission," resident Elizabeth Murray commented. "If we want to attract young families, we need to have hiking trails, and it's absolutely beautiful up there. That's what we're known for, the Berkshire Hills."
Similar sentiments were voiced by Stewart Edelstein, who described the town's economic engine as tourism, notably nature and recreation. "Superb hiking" is listed as a top attraction when visitors do a Google search on the Berkshires and find berkshires.org, he said.
"Any expansion of the trail system is being restricted, and it shouldn't be," Edelstein asserted.
Ames also emphasized that the proposed route would have been "quite a distance" from the Stockbridge Sportsmen's Club clubhouse and other facilities, including its firing range.
A "side benefit" of the trail would have been to keep hikers well away from the firing range, he said. "Most people are quite desirous of walking on a trail where they know where it's going, they don't want to get lost," Ames stated.
A safety concern
But Wayne Slosek, president of the sportsmen's club, said the organization, formed in 1976, had "taken great efforts to find a safe location in the most remote corner of town, out of eyeshot and mostly out of earshot."
He contended that the potential trail "could bring large numbers of people in close proximity to the backside of our shooting ranges. We never thought it made sense to do that, it's not logical. We've taken great efforts to be a good citizen of the town, and we want to continue to be that. I'm glad to see the proposal rejected at this time."
Ames had described the purpose of the trail as bringing people "to a beautiful spot on the mountain, but it's part of a bigger vision of connecting trails from town to town, maybe someday all the way up to Bousquet and Pittsfield."
Selectman Shatz cited "a bigger issue concerning our town reservoir": Commercial truck traffic that's prohibited but uses Averic Road and passes over a narrow causeway at the lake.
"I've seen a number of those trucks pass along the reservoir, and if one of them were to go into the lake, those of us who have town water wouldn't have it for a while," he warned.
"That is the biggest environmental risk to the reservoir," Shatz declared as he urged closure of the portion of the road passing through a sensitive area of the watershed, "the sooner, the better." Voters would have to approve the shutdown, potentially at the next annual town meeting in May.
Water Superintendent Michael Buffoni told the Select Board and concerned residents that a shutdown of the road is likely to be on the agenda of that meeting.
Contact Clarence Fanto at 413-637-2551.