Dalton designated an Appalachian Trail Community

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DALTON — Every year, Tom Levardi hosts hundreds of hikers at his home on Depot Street.

Coming off the Appalachian Trail, which passes nearby, they camp in his backyard or sleep on the porch of his home.

"It's a chance for them to utilize all the services in town, like the restaurants," said Levardi, who has been hosting hikers for 37 years. "Dalton is so popular [with hikers] because the trail runs right smack through the town. It's so close, all of the services ... it's easy for hikers in that respect."

Levardi, a lifelong hiker, predicts the town's recent official designation as an Appalachian Trail Community will promote more awareness of the services the town offers hikers.

"If the town has that special designation, hikers feel more welcome and more readily willing to look for those services,"

he said. "It's a win-win situation for hikers and for the business that [serve them] in town."

Dalton has officially joined Great Barrington and North Adams as an official Appalachian Trail Community. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation and management of the trail, made the decision to designate Dalton an Appalachian Trail Community on March 18.

"This is not a designation that is sought by a few people," said Andrea Lassor, co-chairwoman of the town's Appalachian Trail Community Committee. "It's really done on behalf of the town."

The designation recognizes communities that promote and protect the trail.

The local committee developed the town's application for the designation.

It committee applied with the goal of bringing attention to the Appalachian Trail as a resource, both for locals and people from other communities, Lassor said.

"These trails are used by so many people, but they need a certain amount of protection and maintenance and public awareness of how valuable these are," she said. "I think [this designation] certainly gives people that are interested in hiking a reason to come to Dalton and to linger here.

When hikers come off Day Mountain in town, Depot Street — which has an ice cream shop and restaurant — is right there, Lassor said. If they take a left off Depot Street onto Main Street, they'll soon find the Community Recreation Association, where they can shower, and the post office. The town also has other resources hikers can use, including a laundromat and the library.

"Very often, when hikers come off the trail, they have to travel miles to get to a community to replenish their supplies," Lassor said. "When they come off the trail, they really have access to most of what they need right here in Dalton."

The town will host a celebration of its new status with the Appalachian Mountain Club Berkshire Chapter and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy in August. The tentative date for the celebration is August 19, the Saturday of the town's new weekend art and music festival, Lassor said.

In the meantime, the town has other plans to promote the trail, including a professional development workshop for teachers to help them get students involved in the trail, she said.

Residents also plan to explore how Dalton can make the hiking experience better for travelers. Grow Dalton, a local grassroots organization, hopes to survey hikers to determine what they need that they aren't currently able to get in the town.

They'll soon have plenty of subjects — hiking season has already started, and doesn't drop off until October or November, said Lassor, who is a member of Grow Dalton.

Dalton has a history of welcoming hikers and supporting the trail, said Jim Pelletier, chairman of the Massachusetts Appalachian Trail Management Committee. Some residents were instrumental in getting the trail laid out in the 1930s, he said.

"There's always been that relationship with hikers coming through the town," he said. "Not all communities engage with the trail anywhere near to the extent Dalton does. In my mind, Dalton has always been an [Appalachian Trail] Community."

Reach staff writer Patricia LeBoeuf at 413-496-6247 or @BE_pleboeuf.


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