Berkshire County, which boasts nearly 900 miles of mapped trails, is stepping up its hiking game this summer.
The county is elevating its hiking profile after the first-of-its-kind Berkshire Outdoor Recreation Plan was released in July. The 210-page document by the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission and private investment group Mill Town Capital was created to boost the region’s profile as an outdoor recreation destination. It features plans for new and improved hiking and biking trails, additional campgrounds, updated outdoor facilities, and more.
During a Berkshire County Outdoor Recreation Summit webinar this month, the region’s trail experts provided information about new trail openings and projects visitors can expect this season.
“We are so lucky in Berkshire County,” said Carrie Holland, managing director at Mill Town. “We have over 850 mapped miles of trails here and unmapped [trails] could certainly double or triple that number.”
Holland encouraged hikers to discover new trails through the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission and Berkshire Natural Resources Council websites and by connecting with the many hiking groups in the Berkshires.
One such hiking group is Berkshire Camino, which was founded during the pandemic by Mindy Miraglia.
“We lead short, either one hour, half-day, and ultimately multi-day hiking journeys in the Berkshires inspired by the experience of walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain, which is something that I’ve done twice,” said Miraglia.
The Camino de Santiago is a 500-mile pilgrimage route in Spain.
“They’re walking from town to town, they’re staying in hostels each night, there’s a hot bed and a shower and a meal and a restaurant,” she said. “So that kind of experience is what Berkshire Camino is bringing to the Berkshires.”
Berkshire Camino will offer six to eight half-day walks this year and four different town-center walks that are more focused on history and culture, she said. She said her groups walk through “some really amazing venues” such as Chesterwood in Stockbridge and The Mount and Parsons Marsh Reserve in Lenox.
“I’m excited about this being a draw to the Berkshires,” she said.
Berkshire Camino will be a natural fit for The High Road, Miraglia said, a county-wide trail in the works that was inspired by both the Camino de Santiago and the Coast to Coast Walk in England.
“The High Road is a really exciting vision for a more connected Berkshires,” said Mackenzie Greer, director of public programs for the Berkshire Natural Resources Council. “We have abundant trail networks, we have abundant open space, and we have beautiful downtown centers and city centers, and the vision of the High Road is really to connect it all.”
The first section of the trail will open this summer, she said, though a date hasn’t yet been set. It is an eight-mile path along Yokun Ridge, which stretches from Pittsfield to Stockbridge.
While in Pittsfield this summer, hikers will be treated to the archeological remains of 19th century Shaker buildings at Hancock Shaker Village. The museum is refurbishing its Shaker Trail and debuting a spur off its Farm and Forest Trail in July with the help of Greenagers in Great Barrington, which provides environmental jobs and volunteer opportunities for teens and young adults.
The area was once known as South Family and was where newcomers to Shakerism could try it out for a year, said Jennifer Trainer Thompson, president and CEO. The area was abandoned by 1849 and what remains are foundations that “you can barely find,” she said.
“This year, we’re going to be opening that up,” Thompson said. “We’re going to reveal the archeological remains of five buildings that were Shaker from 1800 to 1849. I think if we waited another 30 years or so, they might totally be enveloped by the land and the forest.”
In Williamstown, where visitors have access to more than 100 miles of trails, hikers will find more signage thanks to The Kiosk Project. Hikers will now find kiosks at 10 different trailheads, including at Pine Cobble Trail, the most popular trail in town, said Dan Gura, land and trails coordinator at the Williamstown Rural Lands Foundation. The kiosks provide a map, difficulty level, and special trail features.
“I think it will result in a safer experience, a more comfortable experience,” Gura said.
The 10 kiosk trails are highlighted in a brochure available at local hotels and the Williamstown Chamber of Commerce, he said.
The famous Appalachian Trail, which stretches about 2,100 miles between Georgia and Maine, offers 90 miles of trail in Massachusetts.
“It’s really easy to get on that trail for a couple of hours, a day, you can go for a week,” said Cosmo Catalano, trail manager for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. “The AT is very easy to get to, we have a lot of road crossings. There are a lot of parking areas.”
Catalano said he is looking into ways to segment the trail into “experience zones.”
“We’re trying to be able to find a way to match visitors with the experience that they’re looking for, that matches what they want to see and what they want to do and what their abilities are,” he said.
Catalano reminded hikers that the Department of Conservation and Recreation closed the Appalachian Trail overnight sites on their property due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“We are not certain when that closure will be lifted or what DCR’s parameters are going to be to cause that closure to be lifted,” he said.
When hiking a trail, it’s a good idea to arrive early to “beat the rush,” he said, and always carry out what you carry in.
“If you come to the trailhead and there’s no parking, find another one of the 850 miles of trails that are available in Berkshire County and try one of those out,” he said.
Berkshire County is planning a Berkshire Outdoor Festival, scheduled for Oct. 2 and 3.
“There will be several participatory events, races, and we’re hopeful that we can do a lot of really engaging in-person events in October,” Holland said. “It will be so fun to see people’s faces live versus on the screen.”
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