PITTSFIELD — As the weather gets warmer and days lengthen, the urge to get outdoors grows. Trail advocates have answers.
Last week, representatives of Berkshires outdoor recreation groups gathered by webinar to discuss plans for the season. The discussion, hosted by Mill Town Capital, included information on a new trail that will expose a little-known part of Hancock Shaker Village to the public.
Hancock Shaker Village, Mill Town and the youth group Greenagers are collaborating on a project to create a spur off the village’s existing U-shaped Farm and Forest Trail to an area originally known as South Family. In 1800, the Shakers created South Family, located south of the village’s campus in Pittsfield, to house those interested in joining the Shaker sect.
“If you thought you were interested in Shakerism, they put you there for a year to see if it really was for you,” said Hancock Shaker Village President and CEO Jennifer Trainer Thompson.
The Shakers took down the buildings they had constructed on the site when South Family was abandoned in 1849, and the area “eventually was just eaten up by the forest,” Trainer Thompson said. “Two winters ago, I was hiking in there and you can barely find the foundations because of the brambles and the trees. It’s pretty deep in there.”
The new spur, which will be created by Greenagers, a South Egremont-based group of young people whose duties include work on hiking trails, is expected to open in mid-July.
“We’re going to reveal the archaeological remains of five buildings that were Shaker from 1800 to 1849,” Trainer Thompson said. “I think if we waited another 30 years or so, they might totally be enveloped by the land and the forest.”
Greenagers Executive Director Will Conklin said his group plans to create a trail, work that is its “bread and butter,” to allow hikers to reach the site.
“The richest part of this for us is getting kids to these sites,” Conklin said. “We’re a youth-based organization, and we focus on sustainable agriculture and conservation. The HSV project encompasses all of that.”
In a related project, Hancock Shaker Village is working with Mill Town and the Pittsfield State Forest to refurbish the Shaker Trail, a path north of the village through the state forest that leads to Mount Sinai, a place the Shakers considered so sacred that the entire village would gather there once every year. A hiker discovered the spot in the 1960s, and with help from local Boy Scouts cleared a pathway, but the site needs work.
“Now, we’re working to clarify that trail more,” Trainer Thompson said. “It’s accessible from Route 20, It’s a beautiful hike. We’re also going to put little moments of art along the way so that people can hike north of the village and south of the village.”
The Berkshire Natural Resources Council has been working on a countywide trail system known as the High Road project. The system’s first leg, between Pittsfield and Lenox, was supposed to open last fall but was put off until this spring because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The council’s Mackenzie Greer said there is no set date for that segment to open, because work is ongoing.
“The target date is a moving one because a lot of things are coming to together in an exciting way,” Greer said. Mill Town and the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission released an outdoor recreation plan for the Berkshires last summer. The team seeks public input on those plans through a survey it is conducting that ends April 30.
Those interested in participating in the survey can find it at tinyurl.com/3ysmur8n.