Happy trails, hikers; Parsons Marsh path set to open Saturday

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LENOX — The Berkshire Natural Resources Council will host a free public celebration Saturday of a new recreational trail in the scenic Undermountain Valley, 2 miles west of downtown.

After nearly five years of negotiations, fundraising and planning, the rustic quarter-mile Parsons Marsh accessible trail and boardwalk will present a vista of open meadows, forested wetlands, and a pond frequented by a variety of animal and bird species.

The site offers a picnic area, interpretive signage detailing the natural and human history of the region and a viewing platform. The official dedication at 10:30 a.m. is part of a three-hour, family-friendly gathering that begins at 9 a.m.

Parking is across from Stonover Farm, 169 Undermountain Road. Carpooling and walking are encouraged, a council announcement stated.

"This project enables people of all abilities to experience our beautiful woodlands and wild places," said council President Jenny Hansell.

"Getting out into nature is healing and nourishing to body and soul, and the experience will now be available to anyone who wants it," she said in an email message. "In winter, you can see coyotes, and in summer, otters play in the pond. There are serene forests, and sparkling open waters. I'm so glad to be able to open this place for everyone."

The $880,000 Parsons Marsh Reserve project includes 88 acres acquired from the Lenox Club for $350,000, a 61-acre purchase from the Sprague Family Trust for $180,000, and a 32-acre parcel donated by the Dovydenas family.

Funding for the acquisitions came from landowners who offered bargain sales, the Massachusetts Subcouncil of the Housatonic River Trustee Council, along with support from foundations and council donors, said Mackenzie Greer, conservation and stewardship associate of the council, as well as cash donations by local residents and supporters.

The new accessible trail, which starts and ends on the former Undermountain Farm parcel, is mostly located on the former Dovydenas land, she noted.

Development cost totaled about $350,000, funded primarily by $235,000 from the Lenox Community Preservation Fund as approved by town meeting voters in May 2017 and $75,000 from the state's Recreational Trails Program, as well as the Lenox Land Trust.

Because of "extremely uncooperative weather this year," Greer said, "the project will be largely finished for the ribbon-cutting, but about another week of work will take place after the event. We encourage people to come back and visit the property on their own at the end of September, giving us a week to fine-tune things."

The trail, 1,800 feet long, has an 800-foot boardwalk including three bridges, with the rest of the trail on a hard-packed surface.

It was designed to be navigable by wheelchairs and people with limited mobility, with gentle inclines, the council announcement pointed out. It was built with environmentally sensitive construction techniques, minimizing pollutant drainage and other impacts on vulnerable habitat.

Peter S. Jensen & Associates of Washington, Vt., working with council staff, constructed the trail.

Parsons Marsh is part of the council's woods, wetlands and farmland conservation efforts in the Undermountain Valley, covering 435 acres under permanent conservation.

North of the marsh, Undermountain Farm was preserved through a 2016 conservation restriction by the Sprague family and the council. At that time, the council acquired 183 acres, including portions of the Parsons Marsh. Other acreage in the area is owned by Mass Audubon and the town of Lenox.

Eventually, through trail easements and cooperative agreements with partners, the project will become a key portion of the council's High Road trail through the valley, which would connect Lenox to Kennedy Park and Pittsfield.

Clarence Fanto can be reached at cfanto@yahoo.com, on Twitter @BE_cfanto or at 413-637-2551.


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