Lauren R. Stevens: North Adams puts welcome mat out for trail hikers


WILLIAMSTOWN — Hands up those who think they've seen more through-hikers (big backpacks, stubble) this summer. Yeah, I think so, too.

I blame the movie "A Walk in the Woods." If Robert Redford and Nick Nolte, looking the way they did, could make even a part of the Appalachian Trail, the rest of us ought to be able to do the whole thing. Dry weather, at least in these parts, may have encouraged folks, too.

We see them on the trail, say on Greylock or East Mountain in Williamstown, strung out along Route 2 or Massachusetts Avenue in North Adams, and half a dozen or more rearranging their packs outside Stop & Shop. They're in line to pick up a resupply package at the post office and on-line at the library.

We're just through the period when hikers from the north (600 miles) cross in Berkshire County with hikers from the south (1,600 miles), who left months earlier. Then, of course, the designation of North Adams as an Appalachian Trail Community may have drawn attention to the hikers.

On July 30, at the Greylock School on Phelps Avenue (d.b.a. the AT), the Appalachian Trail Conservancy made North Adams the 39th AT Trail Community in the United States and the second in Berkshire County and the state. Great Barrington has been a trail community since 2011. The southern United States hosts more trail communities, apparently because town centers tend to be more easily accessible from the trail.

The ATC coordinates trail maintenance and policy. After its officials gave North Adams their blessings, Mayor Richard Alcombright accepted the designation on the part of the city, praising city councilor and long distance trail runner Josh Moran for making it happen.

Moran explained that the idea was to alert hikers that the community had a friendly attitude toward them and to alert the community to respect and help the hikers. "They don't ask for much," Moran said, "But little things make a big difference."

He explained that the initiative began when he and his partner, Amanda Chilson, who live near the AT, began loaning out bicycles to hikers so that they could more easily get to local stores and laundromats.

The idea grew that if North Adams is fortunate enough to have the trail pass right through town, it ought to foster a relationship. Hosting an AT Day with free hamburgers for hikers, as at the Greylock School, is one way. Painting the footbridge over the railroad and river last year was another. Offering a drink of water, directions or a ride — all forms of outreach. Moran noted that several North Adams restaurants offer hiker discounts.

"They're pretty easy to spot," Moran says.

Someone wearing a backpack and having been walking for hundreds of miles, cooking out and sleeping out, looks different. Maybe a touch of piney woods perfume, too.

Not necessarily movie stars but real people, they come from all over the country and even all over the world. They are definitely worth talking to.

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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