Editorial: Hiking adventures are just a few steps out our doors

Published: 7/12/2018 5:23:27 PM

No. If you enjoy the pleasures of hiking, you don’t have to travel to Scotland or Wales, or dedicate six months to the Appalachian Trail, or traverse northern Spain’s El Camino de Santiago.

Our rural corner of Massachusetts will do just fine. It seems with each passing year, we develop or become aware of more and more trails for hikers, bicyclists and increasingly for those who use wheelchairs or are otherwise less able than traditional hikers.

Take Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust’s latest such project and first accessible trail, for example.

The Gunnery Sgt. Jeffrey S. Ames Trail at the Alderbrook Meadows Sanctuary in Northfield allows the mobility impaired to enjoy the outdoors.

It provides up-close access to nature for people who don’t typically have it because there aren’t those options available. The trail began as a conservation project to protect the Ames family’s 140-acre farm in Northfield.

Around five acres was donated to Mount Grace for the project. The trail spans a half-mile and has benches made by Pioneer Valley Regional School students spread out along the trail. The path loops through pine groves that are home to deer and bird life, with an observation deck next to a beaver pond.

Mount Grace worked with naturalists, state geologists and four local indigenous tribal nations to create signs along the trail that educate visitors on the land’s cultural history.

The group is working on a second accessible trail at the Eagle Reserve in Royalston.

The trail is a great addition to the recreational trail system that has already been developed in Northfield and promoted by its tourism and business association.

These are on par with trail offerings we’ve seen in other regions or countries known for hiking.

Another great example of our region’s hiking chops comes courtesy of Bobby Curley, who is president of the North Quabbin Trail Association.

Curley has twice hiked the Appalachian Trail. He and his collaborators have for six years been working to link a network of Quabbin trails with those around Mount Monadnock in New Hampshire, one of the world’s most hiked peaks.

He describes the two-state network of trails, including those along the Millers and Tully rivers, as a world-class hiking jewel.

Curley expects to announce the completion of the 240-mile “Quabbin and Monadnock” Trail in the next year.

The Q and M Trail will connect Franklin and Worcester county trails with those of southern and central New Hampshire in one giant loop, and feature 30 to 35 overnight stops along the way.

There will be eight interconnected regions: Tully River basin, Millers River basin, Swift River basin, Quabbin basin, Farley Ledge Loop, Mount Grace, Warwick Forest and the Metacomet-Monadnock Trail.

Curley hopes the trail’s completion will bring economic benefits to the many towns adjacent to it, which includes virtually every town in the North Quabbin region, and he says 85 out of those 240 miles will be fully accessible.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the the region, Charlemont outdoor adventure businesses, New England Mountain Bike Association enthusiasts and others have been building a network of trails for mountain biking and hiking. They got a boost this spring from the state Department of Conservation and Recreation, which awarded $14,000 to Deerfield River Trails of Charlemont to develop a new map and brochure to highlight the trail, to install signs at trail heads and intersections, and to purchase materials for needed trail repairs at the Kenneth Dubuque State Forest in Hawley.

Deerfield River Trails, formerly known as Charlemont Trails, is a network of non-motorized recreational trails that can be reached from the Warfield House, Berkshire East and Zoar Outdoor in Charlemont. Deerfield River Trails has pledged an additional $7,000 to be used as a matching grant for this project.

This part of the state has been known for a century for the Mohawk Trail highway that traverses it. Isn’t it about time we become better known for the recreational opportunities our hiking trails provide?

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