9-year trek comes to fruition for access to Donato's Trail

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LEE — After nearly a decade of planning, government red tape and unexpected amphibians, hikers can easily access a historic homestead.

The Lee Land Trust officially has completed the rustic parking lot and formal entrance to Donato's Trail. The nonprofit recently installed the sign that identifies the trailhead, and soon a kiosk providing trail information will be added.

Named for Donato Cedrone, the 2.2-mile loop trail between Goose Pond and Route 20 links 35 acres of the 100-acre former Barlow property to the 112-acre Goose Pond Reservation managed by the Trustees of Reservation. The remaining 65 acres are across Route 20 and remain undisturbed.

After his death in 2000, Donato, of East Lee and Newtonville, bequeathed the 100 acres to the Lee Land Trust. The Barlows were among Lee's earliest settlers of "Dodgetown" in 1760, which would become part of Lee when it was incorporated as a town in 1777.

"It was Donato's legacy to make the property open to the public; we just had to figure out how to do it," said Erica Johnson, principal planner for the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission.

Cedrone wanted others to enjoy the land he had purchased from the Barlows in 1956.

"He often said nature was medicine for him," said Linda Cysz, project manager for the land trust.

For the public to get a dose of that flora and fauna, the commission and land trust collaborated for nine years to secure grants, overcome governmental roadblocks and deal with environmental issues.

In 2010, the Trustees of Reservation received funding for the trail, which was completed several years before the formal entrance. The natural path is located off the section of the state highway known as the Jacob's Ladder Trail Scenic Byway. The 33-mile byway is the designated historic section of Route 20 from Exit 2 of the Massachusetts Turnpike in Lee to Russell.

Donato's Trail is 2.5 miles east of the MassPike interchange.

The land trust budgeted $170,000 for the driveway and parking lot at the head of the trail, which included the demolition of the last known standing structure of the Barlow farm. The project was set to begin in 2015, until initial bids from contractors pushed the price tag to $200,000, requiring the land trust to seek additional private money to supplement the federal and state funding.

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In addition, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, according to Cysz, was slow to grant permission for the work along the state highway.

She credits state Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, D-Lenox, for prodding MassDOT to finally give the go-ahead two years ago.

The land trust, assisted by the commission, already had hired Foresight Land Services to design the driveway/parking area.

By early 2017, the land trust finally chose HMA Contracting for the job. The Albany, N.Y.-area firm created the enhanced trailhead that includes a picnic table, bike rack, stone steps from the parking area to the trail and a soon-to be-installed kiosk. The kiosk will have information such as a map of the trail loop, history of the property owners and the site's relevance to the scenic byway.

Last summer, the trail was upgraded and properly marked with yellow blazes on trees, similar to the white marks that identify the Appalachian Trail.

The nine years to complete the trail and parking entrance have been well worth the wait for Joshua Knox, superintendent of the Trustees' western region. The Massachusetts nonprofit oversees 102 properties and historic structures across the commonwealth, such as the Mission House and Naumkeag, both in Stockbridge.

"We at the Trustees are all about connecting people to our land," he said.

While the trail reaches a vista overlooking Goose Pond and is close to the Appalachian Trail, it doesn't connect to either recreational use.

What the roughly two hike does is help hikers disconnect from their electronic devices and the rest of civilization.

"As you get higher up on the trail, you hear more birds and less noise from the highway," Cysz said.

Dick Lindsay can be reached at rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com and 413-496-6233.


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