Deal preserves scenic swath of land in Alford, West Stockbridge

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ALFORD — John Springstube is looking out at Tom Ball Mountain, around which six generations of his family have lived and farmed.

Now 116 acres of that West Stockbridge land, too steep for farming, will go into permanent conservation, after Springstube sold it to Berkshire Natural Resources Council.

And his neighbor, Charlie Schulze, donated 84 acres of Alford land, and a 6-acre trail easement here for conservation.

This combined 206 acres on the mountain's northern summit will comprise the council's Tom Ball Reserve, which will include eventual trail access to a ridge with sweeping views of the Berkshires, and the Catskills to the west. The land sits next to 200 acres preserved by the town of West Stockbridge.

Both men say the Alford Valley countryside is precious.

"We have deep roots, and just to be able to look at the mountain is a pleasure to us," Springstube said.

Clutching hot cider for warmth on Wednesday under a dense gray sky, about 50 people gathered in a field below the mountain to celebrate the council's acquisition of Springstube's land for $157,000, and Schulze's outright donation. The parcels form a critical connection for the council that will help it eventually link a north/south network of trails, an ambitious long-term project known as the High Road.

Narain Schroeder, the council's director of land conservation, said this latest project came after both men told him they were interested in conserving land they couldn't or wouldn't use.

"We're not the ones who make it happen," Schroeder said. "It's the landowners; we just help them."

Schroeder is particularly happy with this assemblage of summit land.

"Not every conservation project includes a prominent summit or sweeping open views," he said. "The summit is studded with pitch pine and burr oak, and outcrops laced with huckleberry, blueberry and fern."

Schulze, who lives in Lenox, said that after his stepfather bought a place in Alford in the 1970s, he began buying some land that at the time was inexpensive. By the early 1980s he had amassed around 390 acres that neither he nor his children will use, he said.

Schulze said he's been on plenty of boards and committees, but that putting the land in conservation felt extraordinary to him.

"The idea of a tangible thing has a very different feel as far as participation in the community," he said.

He also noted that Alford's aggressive approach to land preservation has done something special here.

"This valley has become a magical spot," he said.

Henry Flint, chairman of the Alford Conservation Commission, explained that the Berkshire Scenic Mountain Act has helped the town protect mountain areas like this one, and that the state's Agricultural Preservation Restriction program, as well as the council's work, has made the town "very well protected."

Standing next to him, Alford Select Board member Peggy Rae Hendon-Wilson pointed to the mountain peak and told it like it is.

"We get to look at that instead of a three-story house," she said. "Not that there's anything wrong with three-story houses — but not here."

Heather Bellow can be reached at hbellow@berkshireeagle.com or on Twitter @BE_hbellow and 413-329-6871.


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