By Andrea Minoff
In one of the largest assemblages to date, more than 80 current, former and prospective volunteers, spouses and friends; Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) and Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) staff came together on Saturday, February 4 in Dalton at the 15th Annual Appalachian Trail (A.T.) Volunteer Gathering to share information and find out more about volunteering. Jim Pelletier, A.T. Management Committee Chair, who organized the meeting, along with Volunteer Coordinator Cosmo Catalano, welcomed the participants and spoke on the state of the trail, issues and challenges, including maintaining program strength, continuing progress in developing areas and managing trail use.
Catalano, after the presentation of a plaque recognizing him as AMC, Berkshire Chapter Volunteer of the Year by Chapter Vice Chair Martin Mahoney, reviewed volunteer efforts totaling 9,224.5 hours over the 90 miles of the A.T. in MA. Project highlights included adding cribbing under the log bridge at Hubbard Brook, repairing the fire-damaged floor at the October Mountain Shelter and replacing the porch at the Goose Pond Cabin and performing ongoing maintenance. The 2017 A.T. Management Committee Work Project Schedule, to be issued shortly, will include increasing the tent capacity at Tom Leonard and Noepel Shelters and repairing the Cooper Brook Bridge.
Pelletier updated the group on the rock-pinned steps, built with the help of Will Conklin and the Greenagers, on the south side of Mt. Everett, and the Overnight Site Caretakers Program. Six caretakers spent 28 nights at A.T. overnight sites from May to October, providing education and information to campers. Upper Goose Pond Cabin caretakers welcomed 2,800 visitors at this iconic Trail location. Current initiatives include "The High Road," led by the Berkshire Natural Resources Council to make the Berkshires more “hikeable” and increase tourist dollars coming into local economies; and a MA A.T. license plate to establish stable-funding for the A.T. Committee’s efforts on behalf of the Trail.
Natural Resources Chair Steve Smith reported on the righting of the Shays Rebellion Monument and the planting of six trees on Arbor Day, April 20, 2016 as part of the Sheffield Tree Project. Smith recapped other work , including invasive eradication at Shaker Campsite in Becket and Day Mountain, field mowing to maintain habitat and rare plant monitoring and protection at the top of Mt. Greylock and in other locations.
Partners Share Updates; Breakouts Discuss Projects and Issues
Becky Barnes, MA DCR Western Region Trails Supervisor, detailed state efforts to purchase land from willing sellers to protect the A.T. corridor in Clarksburg State Forest and a multi-year statewide invasive species planning project. Those who wish to voice their concern about ongoing significant downsizing in DCR staff should write directly to DCR Commissioner Leo Roy. Adam Brown, ATC Conservation Stewardship Manager for New England, announced April 8 as the upcoming Kellogg Conservation Center Volunteer Workday; and the hiring of Cheryl Byrne as 2017 seasonal conservation steward. Byrne, a former Green Mountain (VT) Field Assistant, will be based at the Kellogg Center on Rt. 41 in Sheffield.
AMC Southern New England Regional Trail Supervisor Andrea Franklin recapped the work of the Southern New England Teen Trail Crew on both the A.T. and New England Scenic Trail in 2016 , and spoke about upcoming 2017 work at Day Mountain and Mount Prospect. Her office will field three Teen Trail Crews weekly throughout the summer and manage a seven-person ridge runner corps on the A.T. in CT and southwestern MA.
The final speaker before the breakout sessions, Andrea Lassor, Co-Chair for the A.T. Community Committee for Dalton spoke about the application to become a designated A.T. Community, which grew out of the “Grow Dalton” initiative to bring tourists to Dalton and contribute financially to the community.
In the breakout sessions, the northern, central and southern maintainers, led by Becky Barnes, Deb Weisenstein and Christine Ward respectively and Natural Resource Monitoring, led by Smith, discussed trail section maintenance projects and issues. The second round of sessions focused on corridor monitoring, led by Dave Pirog; Upper Goose Pond Caretaking and Maintenance, led by Debra Klaber and Pete Rentz; Shelter Adopters, led by Don Fairbanks; Ridge Runners and Overnight Site Caretakers, led by Catalano; and the Dalton A.T. Community Group, where Dalton resident Tom Levardi shared tips about hosting hikers, which he has done for the past 37 years.
The meeting concluded with recognition of cumulative volunteer service by Weisenstein. Jim Neibalski received a patch for 100 hours; Julie Pelletier and Bonnie and Rob Cramp were recognized for 500 hours; Bambi King and Paul Plasse received a vest for 1,000 hours and Bill Rausch was recognized for 25 years of service. Individuals recognized for 96 hours in the past year included the Cramps, Catalano, Fairbanks, King, Jim Pelletier and Pete Rentz. Earlier in the meeting, Pelletier recognized “Elder Statesmen of the Trail" Bob Hatton, Tom Begley, John Shuttleworth and Earl McWhorter, the latter for 50 plus years of volunteer work on the Trail. Dick Mullins received a plaque from Pete Rentz for his many years of work at Day Mountain.
COME CELEBRATE BERKSHIRE COUNTY'S CONNECTION WITH THE A.T. THIS SUMMER
Hike and picnic with A.T. volunteers, maintainers and hikers on annual trail days scheduled for July 22 in Great Barrington and in North Adams on July 29. Subject to application approval, a celebration is tentatively planned in mid-August to mark the Dalton designation as an A.T. Community.