Ten Minutes With the Berkshire's Expert Hiker
Lauren Stevens shares the best hikes, overnights and scenic walks in his new book
Photo by Edward Acker
Lauren Stevens, hiker and explorer of Berkshire County since the 1960s, knows this land more deeply than most. His newest book, 50 Hikes in the Berkshire Hills, grew out of Hikes and Walks in the Berkshire Hills, first published nearly 30 years ago. His dozen or so other books cover topics such as old barns, environmental landscaping, Mount Greylock, and skiing. At a very young 80 years old, Stevens still hikes the mountains around his Williamstown home on a regular basis. For his latest book, he went out and did all the trails all over again. Things change, he says. You gotta.
What makes hiking in Berkshire County unique?
Just an unusual number of cared-for trails that are open to the public, free. I think it’s unusual that the outdoors are so close to where people live. It’s not just that you can drive to a trail, but for a lot of people in Berkshire County, there’s a trail in walking distance. Any way people can be encouraged to leave the car and do their exploring on foot, I think it’s a plus.
Do you exercise indoors?
No. Part of hiking is not just hiking, it’s looking around. I don’t know if I want to look at these walls!
What are some of your favorite hiking places?
Mount Greylock has always been an interest. When I first arrived in Williamstown, there was an ongoing concern about what was going to happen with the mountain. Was somebody going to run a ski lift up to the top? So it always had a kind of special place in my life. I can walk out my back door here to East Mountain, of which Pine Cobble is an overlook. That’s one of Williamstown’s favorite hikes. I’ve been involved for a number of years now in trying to create a long-distance trail between the Connecticut and the Hudson. Actually, a lot of it is in place. It runs east-west when the other long distance trails, the Appalachian Trail and the Long Trail, run north-south, so it gives the opportunity to create loops and things of that sort.
Have you ever done one of the long-distance trails?
Most of my hiking is about three hours. [Laughs.] I remember being a camp counselor and taking kids out for a week or something. But this is a great area for day trips, you’ve got Greylock, the Taconics, the Green Mountains, the Hoosics—all kinds of ways of getting out. Sometimes you have to take a sandwich, sometimes you don’t.
Many long distance hikers are just concerned with putting the miles in. Are they missing the point?
That’s right. I think that speed should not be a factor in hiking.
Would you say you’ve been a conservationist?
I’m very much involved, and have been for 30 years or so in the [Hoosic River] Watershed Association. We have all the issues involved with water quality and various ways of making the river available to people. I’m on the town conservation commission. For The Berkshire Eagle, I write an environmental column which might be considered conservationist. I’m obviously very concerned about climate change. The other is a hikes and walks column.
How has hiking changed over the years?
Obviously there’s a lot of technology. I don’t get too much into that—the boots are better, rainwear is better, not as hot as it used to be. I think the major change is that there’s just more people. I think that’s great. This gets me to a concern because the most dangerous animal in the woods now is this tick, and a lot of people are quite rightly very concerned about it. But I don’t think people should be deterred by that relatively unlikely possibility. It’s certainly not unlikely to have a tick on you, but that you not see or feel the tick is less likely. I believe it’s a factor of climate change that the ticks which would not have been able to survive the winter in the old days can now. People worry about ticks in the summer, but you can get a tick on you in January.
You’ve written, rightly so, that hiking is safer than many everyday activities. Have you ever had any serious mishaps?
I certainly have gotten lost a couple times. I think it was Daniel Boone who said he’d never been lost, he’d been turned around for a few weeks. But hiking, I’ve never really had a serious problem. Once I ran into a guy doing the AT who was blind. Almost every time I’m out on the trail anywhere I think about that guy. He wore shin guards, he fell all the time. He had a dog, so he wasn’t getting lost. Just imagine, every step you take you don’t know what’s there. But he made it.
Have attitudes toward outdoor recreation and wild places changed?
I think people are much more respectful. In general, the woods are a lot cleaner—certainly a lot cleaner than the roadsides. I attribute that to education, because more users, less trash. I also think people are more comfortable. I take a cell phone with me so there’s the possibility of getting help. I see many more women, even alone, on the trail than you used to. I think that’s great. That wasn’t always so. I also see more people of color. Not a lot, unfortunately, I wish more. There’s a group based up in Savoy that brings inner city kids from New York up for camps, and they get out on the trails, out in canoes. I think we need more of that. You know, those kids, they’ve never seen the stars.