Preservation project 30 years in the making adds hundreds of acres to Hollow Fields reserve

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RICHMOND — A scenic 342-acre forested preserve adjoining the New York state line is now protected forever, thanks to a joint $375,000 fundraising campaign by the town, Richmond Land Trust and Berkshire Natural Resources Council.

The purchase of the land previously owned by the Berkshire Farm Center and Services for Youth of Canaan, N.Y., was completed late last month. The acreage, now owned and managed by the council, includes Perry's Peak and nearly doubles the size of its Hollow Fields conservation area extending to the state border.

Much of the now-preserved land had been held by the United Society of Shakers and was acquired around 1900 by Berkshire Farm Center after the facility for troubled youths was created.

The acquisition, marking the end of a 30-year land-conservation effort, was financed by $125,000 from the town of Richmond's Conservation Land Fund, $125,000 in matching funds raised by the Richmond Land Trust, and $125,000 from the Berkshire Natural Resources Council through an $85,000 grant from the Massachusetts Conservation Partnership, as well as additional funding from the council's donors.

The town and the Richmond Land Trust hold a joint conservation restriction on the parcel.

The area, including an easy 2-mile trail ideal for bird-watching and picnicking, is open to the public and can be reached from a parking area on Perry's Peak Road on the west side of Route 41 (State Road), 1.3 miles north of the Richmond Town Hall and 2.4 miles south of Hancock Shaker Village. The trailhead on Perry's Peak Road is 0.3 miles west of the state highway.

"The property is important for preserving unfragmented wildlife habitat and migration corridors," Mackenzie Greer, the council's director of public programs, said. "Also, it is part of BNRC's plan to connect Berkshire towns via through-hiking routes that stretch across the region in a network of existing and new trails called the High Road."

The entire Hollow Fields reserve, now totaling over 660 acres with the latest purchase from Berkshire Farm Center, came together through two gifts of land in a conservation partnership involving the Richmond Land Trust, the council and landowners who donated some of the acreage.

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The public trail winds through a 40-acre hayfield with nesting birds and dramatic landscapes that include Yokun Ridge to the east and the southern Taconic range to the west.

"The protection of this historically rich, open land was envisioned at the time the Richmond Land Trust was founded, 30 years ago," said Richmond Land Trust President John Keenum.

"Partnerships with local land trusts and towns are essential to meaningful conservation projects in the Berkshires," council President Jenny Hansell said. "Achieving this long-term vision together with the Richmond Land Trust is an expression of BNRC's most deeply-held values."

The council, which has been managing the project, plans trail improvements extending north through the newly acquired parcel toward Route 20 in Hancock, including additional signs.

Eventually, it is likely to connect to the existing Taconic Crest Trail, 37 miles long from Route 20 northward, hugging the borders of New York and Vermont, and ending in Petersburgh, N.Y., near the Vermont border. Much of the route has been conserved as state forest, conservation easement or forest preserve. Its highest point is Berlin (N.Y.) Mountain, elevation 2,818 feet.

A celebration of the project's completion is planned during the Richmond Land Trust's annual pie social on Sept. 7, open to the public and sponsored by the trust in association with the Historical Commission and Richmond Shores Civic Association.

Established in 1967, the Berkshire Natural Resources Council's mission focuses on protection and preservation of the natural beauty and ecological integrity of the Berkshires for public benefit and enjoyment.

There are 54 of the council's conservation reserves in Berkshire County, free and open to the public for recreation. The council, supported by donors, conserves land, builds and maintains trail systems and offers year-round group outings.

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


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