This third weekend in July is when Great Barrington Trails and Greenways usually sponsors an annual Appalachian Trail Community day, a day to celebrate our connection to the AT as well as our stewardship of all our natural resources. Great Barrington Trails and Greenways is a project of the Great Barrington Land Conservancy. This year, due to the complications of COVID-19, we are not celebrating, but it is clear that our relationship to the AT and to our natural resources is a crucial one. Through-hiking had been delayed and there are fewer hikers and particularly fewer groups on the trail this year because of concerns about spreading the virus. But more people are out enjoying nature. They are out because there is nowhere you can safely go that is in. They are out because of the solace that nature provides in times of stress. They are out because they don’t have the million and one things they used to have to do. Nature has to replace so many of our human connections. And thank goodness we live in a place where it is so accessible and there is so much of it that we can enjoy it with others at a physical distance. It allows us to be sociable in person without the risks of spreading disease, as long as we are careful.
So let’s take some time to explore why we have AT Community Day. In 2008 a group of land and health stewards came together to build something bigger than any one of us or our organizations; to build something that honored and engaged people with nature. This group has been together for 12 years, supporting the work of all our participating organizations, bringing ever more people to nature and providing education about stewardship.
This community effort led Great Barrington to be recognized as the first AT Community in Massachusetts and the birth of AT Community Day to celebrate that designation. In the years that followed, Dalton and North Adams also earned the designation, and we all proudly support the trail, the hikers on the trail and the stewardship of our natural resources. Many of the trail towns have community celebrations and they vary in size and timing and purpose. Many of them serve to support outdoor recreation as an economic driver. While we recognize that many people do come to Berkshire County for our natural beauty, our hiking and biking, swimming and outdoor recreation, economics is not what is behind Great Barrington (and South County’s) celebration.
The goal of GB Trails on AT Day is to welcome through- and section hikers to our community and to introduce our local population to the AT. Historically we have led hikes for all ages and ended with a potluck dinner at which the community, with support from the Berkshire Chapter of the Appalachian Mountain Club, feeds hikers and offers them a place to stay at Beartown State Forest, connecting the state Department of Conservation and Recreation properties with the AT for residents and visitors. Berkshire South joins in by offering campsites, phone charging and showers, and local businesses also support the day. All of these partners and others have been busy this summer keeping their properties and programming safe and meeting the needs of our local population as well as our visitors. As a group, we chose to take the year off from creating an event that had the potential for spreading illness. We hope you will continue to take advantage of our natural resources physically distanced and appropriately masked. You can go to www.gbtrails.org to connect to many of the organizations that steward our natural resources, see what they have to offer and support them if you are able. Our natural resources become even more important in times of stress and we want to make sure they are there for all of us.