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Egremont gives itself a birthday party, and promotes civic awareness

“In our system, the authority of the government goes to those who show up. And right now, our nation, our region, and our towns are at a crossroads. We need everyone to show up. And it’s not laziness or a shirking of civic responsibility. Often, we just have no clue how or where to begin." -- Susan Bachelder, Egremont Historical Commission, opening the 242nd town birthday celebration

South Egremont — How long has the town of Egremont been around? The same number of years that the United States Marine Corps has been in existence: 242. It’s not quite yet a major milestone (that’ll come in eight years) but it was still cause for the town to throw itself a little birthday party.

Scores of people turned out Sunday afternoon (August 27) in front of the First Congregational Church to not only wish their beloved town a happy birthday but to reacquaint themselves with what town government actually does.

Historical Commission member Susan Bachelder, at right, one of the organizers of the event, speaks to the audience as Selectmen George McGurn and Bruce Turner listen. Photo: Terry Cowgill
Historical Commission member Susan Bachelder, at right, one of the organizers of the event, speaks to the audience as Selectmen George McGurn and Bruce Turner listen. Photo: Terry Cowgill

“We’ve had so many people stepping down that we thought maybe we should honor them and explain what the town does at the same time,” said Susan Bachelder, a member of the town Historical Commission and one of the organizers who envisioned the event.

So honor them the town did (See video below). Selectmen Bruce Turner, Mary Brazie and George McGurn gave certificates of appreciation to a distinguished collection of officials who have served the town over the years but had recently stepped down: Ben Barrett, Nic Cooper, Nancy DuVall, Charles Flynn, Tom Gage, Gregg Siter, and Bill Turner.

In addition, representatives from boards, commissions and various nonprofits had set up information booths and were willing to hand out material and explain what they do to anyone who would listen.

Peggy Muskrat, Ursula Cliff and Keila Sheldon chat. Muskrat and Sheldon are library trustees. Muskrat and Cliff are also members of the Egremont Land Trust. Photo: Terry Cowgill
Peggy Muskrat, Ursula Cliff and Keila Sheldon chat. Muskrat and Sheldon are library trustees. Muskrat and Cliff are also members of the Egremont Land Trust. Photo: Terry Cowgill

The Egremont Land Trust works to preserve open space in the town. Members Robin Goldberg and Pat Muskrat told a reporter the land trust was formed in the 1980s in response to a proposed redevelopment of the old Jug End in the Berkshires, a long-closed hotel and resort on 1,200 acres (10 percent of the total land within the town’s borders), that would have brought 605 housing units in the Jug End Valley, which was by far the largest block of undeveloped land left in Egremont.

A significant kerfuffle resulted. The development would have doubled the town’s population and, some residents felt, destroyed the ecology of the valley. Happily for the land trust, the state eventually bought the property, demolished many of the buildings, and established the Jug End State Reservation and Wildlife Management Area.

Chet Delaney represented Friends of Prospect Lake (FoPL), a nonprofit organization dedicated to keeping its namesake lake healthy. The organization was also holding a tag sale in front of Town Hall in North Egremont to protect and promote the health of one of Egremont’s most popular attractions, the 55-acre Prospect Lake.

Prospect Lake’s history and charms were documented by local historian Gary Leveille in his 2011 book, Eye of Shawenon — so named for the Mohican Native American Indian in the 1700s who negotiated the sale of tribal lands in the region.

David Hodge and Karen Berger, both music teachers and longtime Egremont residents, entertained attendees. Photo: Terry Cowgill
David Hodge and Karen Berger, both music teachers and longtime Egremont residents, entertained attendees. Photo: Terry Cowgill

As Karen Berger and David Hodge, both music teachers and longtime Egremont residents, sang and played, Egremont Free Library Trustee Keila Sheldon extolled the virtues of her organization.

The library is open four days a week, has a meeting room upstairs and offers free wifi. It’s also connected to the Massachusetts public library system, which allows library patrons to borrow books from almost any public library in the state.

There were also representatives from the Conservation Commission, the Historical Commission and the assessor’s office. The Egremont Fire Department, which is next door to the church, and the Police Department offered free snow cones in red or blue, while inside the church the Historical Commission served birthday cake on plates from the Egremont Green Committee.

“In our system, the authority of the government goes to those who show up,” Bachelder said in announcing the event. “And right now, our nation, our region, and our towns are at a crossroads. We need everyone to show up. And it’s not laziness or a shirking of civic responsibility. Often, we just have no clue how or where to begin.”

Nancy DuVall, who served on the Board of Health for 16 years, receives a certificate of appreciation from Selectmen Mary Brazie, George McGurn and Bruce Turner. Photo: Terry Cowgill
Nancy DuVall, who served on the Board of Health for 16 years, receives a certificate of appreciation from Selectmen Mary Brazie, George McGurn and Bruce Turner. Photo: Terry Cowgill

Bachelder quoted Ben Franklin (“One man of tolerable abilities may work great changes”) and Alexis de Tocqueville, who emphasized in his book Democracy in America, that “the collective force of an enlightened people, awakened to their interests, will always be more powerful to produce social well-being than the authority of government.”

Lifelong Egremont resident Jim Reynolds showed up with his young children — something that is becoming a rarity in town. His kids are sixth-generation Egremont. His grandfather was Milo Peck, who started Egremont’s first volunteer fire department. Reynolds wants the town that he loves to remain vibrant and healthy and that’s one reason he and his young family came to the town’s birthday party.

“I’m Egremont through and through,” Reynolds said. “I bleed Egremont.”

In video below the Egremont Board of Selectmen honored Ben Barrett, Nic Cooper, Nancy DuVall, Charles Flynn, Tom Gage, Gregg Siter, and Bill Turner for their many years of service to the town. Bruce Turner, who chairs the board, performed the honors, as fellow board member Mary Brazie handed them certificates of appreciation on Aug. 27, 2017. (Video by Terry Cowgill)

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