CHESHIRE — Weary Appalachian Trail travelers are about two months from bedding down for the night at a town-sanctioned site.
By May 1, weather permitting, the Cheshire Appalachian Trail Committee and town officials plan to have converted unused municipal space just off the trail into a tent-only camping area for hikers needing an overnight rest stop.
"Fortunately, it's next to the Highway Department, so we can keep a close eye on the site," said Town Administrator Ed St. John IV.
"We'll have on-site trash disposal, as the hikers are pretty good at policing themselves."
The town also will provide on-site potable water, electricity for charging cellphones, and portable toilets.
Trail committee Chairwoman Eileen Quinn said her group also regularly will check in on campers at the site.
"The Berkshires' Massachusetts Appalachian Trail Management Committee is giving us a picnic table or two and a kiosk to post information about the trail and the town," she said.
The Appalachian Trail is a 2,175-mile-long path that runs from Georgia to Maine. Berkshire County contains the entire Massachusetts section of the trail.
In late August, the Cheshire Planning Board approved plans to provide a rustic, free-of-charge camping site, and some preparation work was done in the fall. Whitney's Farm Market and Garden Center in Cheshire donated the arborvitae planted to screen the site from a neighboring homeowner and give the hikers some privacy.
The rest of the work is scheduled to be done by May 1.
The need to offer hikers a formal camping area arose last year, when the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield no longer would, unofficially, allow hikers to camp out on the lawn of St. Mary of the Assumption Church.
The local trail committee has made sure that 2020 hiking guides and social media apps that hikers rely on have removed St. Mary's as a viable camping spot.
Initial opposition to the town-sanctioned camping eventually gave way to collaboration to show that Cheshire is a welcoming community.
"This is a great example of all the town departments involved and community groups coming together to solve a problem," St. John said.
Quinn said the camping initiative justifies the Appalachian Mountain Club in 2018 designating Cheshire an Appalachian Trail Community. The club bestows the honor on communities dedicated to the management and preservation of the trail.
The designation also is a great promotional tool.
"Becoming an Appalachian Trail Community puts you more on the map," Quinn said.
Dick Lindsay can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.