Lauren R. Stevens: Blaze a trail, but don't blaze your own
WILLIAMSTOWN >> As well as the solemn side of Memorial Day — the cemetery decorations, parades, speeches and taps in honor of United States war dead — the holiday also stands as the unofficial beginning of summer and, especially, for many the beginning of the outdoor season. (For others, the outdoor season never ends.)
Some people open their camps or launch their boats or take a celebratory spin on their bicycles, but the simplest, easiest and cheapest celebration is to take a hike. All it requires is a pair of shoes, I was going to say, but then I remembered a mother and sons who will be visiting the area again this summer who like to hike Greylock barefoot.
Regardless of footgear, most people in the Berkshires live within walking distance of a wooded trail open to the public. That's not the usual situation east of the Mississippi and north of the Smokys, and it is one of which we should take advantage. Furthermore, our hikes, most doable in a day, are not Himalayan.
North County may have a slight edge in that the trail-bedecked Mt. Greylock sits in the middle, easily accessible from six towns. For central county there is Pittsfield State Forest and, closer to the city, two Audubon properties and The Boulders. South County is laced with open public and private parcels, such as Alander, Everett, Monument Mountain and Tyringham Cobble, to name only higher elevations. Paths in the valleys are also good.
These trails, often starting as old carting or logging roads, evolved as people used them. Some of them began as town roads that grew unused by vehicles. Most trails, therefore, have a history and many pass by the engaging artifacts from previous land uses.
A smaller number were cut to be hiking, biking, skiing or off-road vehicle trails to begin with. Organizations planned them, marked them on the ground, cut trees and rearranged rocks to make them work.
The first question in planning a trail is to ask if people will use it? The second, who will maintain it?
An individual cutting his own is not a good idea. Sorry. Permission from the landowner is required, even if — especially if — the landowner is us, the commonwealth. Laying out and constructing trails requires skills — and maintaining them requires constancy a freelance trail builder is unlikely to provide. Private trails can confuse other hikers. If made improperly, like one that goes straight up the hill, they can be subject to erosion.
Berkshire trails are well-maintained and generally litter free, which is a point of pride to those of us from here who hike here and a valued amenity to those who visit here. We should be grateful to those who maintain trails. The less we notice their work, the better they are at it.
Downed or leaning trees or limbs need to be cut. Water bars, which divert water off the trail to prevent erosion, need to be cleaned out. Bridges need to be repaired. Blazes — those daubs of paint that show where the trail goes — need to be freshened. Signs need to be repaired or replaced. Those who want to feel good by helping should contact someone in charge.
Let's attend the Memorial Day ceremonies in our towns and then adjourn to the great outdoors for pedestrian ceremonies memorializing those who have had the vision and done the labor involved in creating and keeping up Berkshire trails.
At least, that's how it looks from the White Oaks.
A writer and environmentalist, Lauren R. Stevens is a regular Eagle contributor.
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