Our Opinion: At 50, BNRC has created lasting legacy

If you could snap a chalk line from any point along Berkshire County's southern border with Connecticut and northern border with Vermont, from A to B — from, say, the verdant bottomlands of Sheffield to the hardpan of Clarksburg — you could not help but to bisect enough protected wilderness, trail systems, and wildlife management areas that would take years to fully explore.

For this, we are thankful to many individuals, groups, and agencies. But we particularly owe a debt of gratitude to the Berkshire Natural Resources Council, which marked its 50th anniversary Saturday with a community celebration at Holiday Farm in Dalton.

Over the years, masterfully marshaling disparate individuals and agencies — preservationists, politicians, town boards, sportsmen, private landowners, and environmentalists — the BNRC has been responsible for permanently protecting more than 21,000 acres and 50 miles of trails on 97 properties. Much of this land is open to the public for hiking, snowshoeing, canoeing, kayaking, jogging, fishing, hunting, bird watching, and picnicking. The BNRC employs many dedicated volunteers who monitor these properties, a cost-saving measure that also enables Berkshire residents to play a role in preserving this precious land.

Fifty years ago, as the heavy tread of development was fully afoot upon the land — indeed, as things were "going to hell in a hand-basket," as the Eagle's publisher at the time, Donald Miller, put it (Eagle, September 7) — the Berkshires' preservationist movement was still in its fledgling stage. Knowing that institutional backing would be intrinsic to a successful preservationist effort, Mr. Miller joined forces with a wily former state game manager named George Wislocki and Dalton businessman Frederick Crane to form the BNRC. The council has had boots on the ground ever since.

Compared to other parts of the country where countless small towns have been drawn and quartered or swallowed up whole in a smear of edgeless, centerless suburbs, we in the Berkshires have managed to keep our rugged good looks and sensibility of scale. Examples of this preservation are many. Thanks to the BNRC, housing units proposed for the pristine Greylock Glen in Adams in the early 1980s never happened. The group fought a misguided state attempt to straighten out Route 23 in Monterey with a bypass. There was that 250-acre dump in Hinsdale that never happened, either. That's just to name a few of the battles the BNRC has undertaken and won since 1967. Such work takes tenacity, patience, social skills, money and a shared sense that the health of a community is contingent upon the good stewardship of the environment that surrounds it.

Critical to the success of the BNRC was founding president Mr. Wislocki's willingness to ally himself with those bringing in "new money" to South Berkshire even though many locals regarded thm with suspicion. These new arrivals came here largely because of the Berkshires' natural beauty and they teamed with the BNRC to buy and preserve significant pieces of land.

Mr. Wislocki retired 15 years ago and his work has continued under the leadership of his successor, the now outgoing President Tad Ames ("Celebrate BNRC's gift to the Berkshires," Eagle oped, September 7.) That work continues with the group's efforts to create "The High Road" — connecting the county's villages and towns through a network of hiking trails from Mount Washington to the Vermont border. Get your hiking shoes ready. Thanks to the BNRC, we can walk the "walk."


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