Take the High Road
Our natural landscape is our biggest draw—and our best resource
A popular place to hike from, this overlooks the Stockbridge Bowl. To find out about upcoming activities, in addition to the High Road, go to bnrc.org.
Photo by Gabrielle K. Murphy
When I moved to the Berkshires in 1986, I bought a mountain bike and spent many hours getting lost on the flanks of Mount Greylock. One day I rode my bike out of the dark woods above Kitchen Brook in Cheshire and was happy to see not only sun-dappled pavement, but a man standing beside his car admiring the view.
Neither of us knew exactly where we were. That wasn’t all we had in common. Like me, he was a single guy in his early 20s who’d moved to the Berkshires for a job. I was with The Berkshire Eagle. He was with General Electric. He didn’t figure he’d stay long.
“There’s not much to do here,” he said.
I offered the opinion that there was plenty to do outdoors. He shrugged. We parted ways. I’ve spent 30 years in the Berkshires thinking about what he said.
Earlier this year, I decided that the time had come to leave Berkshire Natural Resources Council, where I’ve worked since 1990. BNRC has just completed a $5 million capital campaign to seed the High Road, our vision for a countywide network of hiking trails connecting town to town through conservation land. We are at a high point. It’s a fitting moment to pass the torch, and my wife Trudy and I are ready to imagine our next adventure together.
But I’m still thinking about the Berkshires.
Is it true that there’s nothing to do here? Or is the problem that there aren’t enough people to do things with, especially if you’re young?
When I moved to the Berkshires as a 23-year-old, I met a ton of interesting people who were in the midst of attending serial 40th birthday parties for each other. Some were natives, but most had come here from somewhere else. I waited for the wave of immigrants my age to arrive. It never did. In fact, the tide seemed to be going out.
Census reports and demographic projections bear out the impressions. We are losing population. The people that we lack the most are between the ages of 20 and 40. These are the energetic up-and-comers who will be the next generation of thinkers and leaders. These are the people who have babies.
For decades, population has been a great chicken-egg challenge in the Berkshires. There just aren’t enough people here year-round to sustain easily the activities that would not only lure new residents, but give them something “to do.” As a conservationist, I believe we have an overriding duty to make sure that the land we set aside benefits the people—and the future—of the Berkshires. At BNRC, we refer to ourselves as “landkeepers”―people who conserve and care for land so that people can visit and enjoy it.
I won’t recite here the invaluable ecological services that conservation land gives us. But I will emphasize this: Nature is the Berkshire’s greatest asset, and it’s not just ecological, it’s economic. Repeated surveys have shown that visitors come here for the beauty. They may spend their dollars at hotels and restaurants and cultural institutions, but they would not visit—at least not in such numbers—if we didn’t live in such an attractive place.
In 2013, BNRC saw—or began to create—the future. People travel to Europe for inn-to-inn walking holidays. Why not use BNRC’s expertise and collaborative networks in the beautiful Berkshires to create the same opportunity here?
The High Road will give focus to protecting our most special places, and the creatures that inhabit them, ensuring that we don’t inadvertently destroy our greatest asset. It will give people another reason to visit the Berkshires, especially during the quieter, hiker-friendly “shoulder seasons” of May-June and September-November.
And in a region that all-too-often self-segregates into north, central and south counties, the High Road will help tie together the Berkshires as a single, remarkable place.
We hear a lot about the “millenial” market. Definitions vary, but, roughly speaking this is the generation that makes up a big chunk of the 20-40 year old slice—the very people we miss the most here. Millenials are said to crave things that are unique and noteworthy. They favor interesting art, food, drink and experiences more than material acquisition. They are socially conscious and want work-life balance.
These are wild generalizations, for sure. But many of the values and opportunities ostensibly coveted by millennials are abundant here in the Berkshires. And the things we say about millennials apply equally to other generations.
The High Road can’t deliver everything the Berkshires need for the future. But it will add richness to life here. It will give us a new calling card, a song for a new generation of people who just may decide to settle in the Berkshires, finding, and making, something more to do.
Berkshire Natural Resources Council (BNRC) has protected Olivia’s Overlook in Stockbridge for public use and enjoyment. More than 21,000 acres are under the oversight of BNRC.
Photo by Scott Barrow