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From Skeptic to Believer: Online Wills and the Berkshire Outdoors

About three years ago, I received an email from someone who wanted to sell BNRC on an online platform where anyone can write their own will for free.

I was skeptical—I get a LOT of sales pitches and most of them are for products and services BNRC doesn’t need.

On the other hand, I’m always interested in innovations that offer mutual benefit to both BNRC’s mission, and the individual donors who are an essential part of the BNRC team.

So I agreed to listen to what this person had to say. Turns out, they were down to earth, honest, and authentic in their approach.

Long story short: The idea was compelling, BNRC signed up, and three years later over $7 million has been designated to BNRC via wills created at 

Explore FreeWill 

That’s terrific!

These are special commitments. 

Honestly, I don’t know the words to communicate my gratitude. When writing a will, one only chooses a few people or causes with which they share their soul. When folks choose to care for the Berkshire outdoors forever, that’s a big deal. 

Here’s what I’ve learned about writing a will online, for free, over the last three years: 

  • Your heart already knows how to protect your loved ones, and your values. An online will-writing platform provides prompts that help you identify in your mind the things your heart already knows.
  • It’s fun to play around on your own. On FreeWill, you can model different scenarios, at your own pace, at a time that works for you. Want to tinker on it at 10 p.m. after the kids are asleep? Easy. Do you do your best thinking before offices open for the day? No problem. You get the idea.
  • You can write a draft to discuss with an attorney. You don’t need to put whatever you write on FreeWill into use. Many do. Others use FreeWill as a thinking tool, and then use the document they create as the basis for further work with their lawyer. How you use FreeWill is up to you.
  • If you don’t have a will, the best time to make one is now. It’s not too early. Rather than some kind of morbid contingency plan, wills are actually ways to contemplate and act on your values. Today. And you can change them over the years, as you change, and as your needs change. So why not have a will for the person you are today? For the people you love right now? For the causes that are doing what you most want for the world? 

Three years, and $7 million in committed intentions later, those are my takeaways… that’s what I’ve learned by working with the FreeWill team and watching several dozen members of the BNRC community put the platform to use. 

It seems to me that it’s been mutually beneficial—for the folks using it, for BNRC, and ultimately, for the Berkshires. (Though you do not have to designate a contribution to BNRC to use the free service.) 

When people make long-term provisions to support conservation, wildlife, farming, climate resilience, and free access to the Berkshire outdoors for everybody… the impact of that generosity lasts for a time measured in hundreds of years… at the least.

That’s powerful. 

FreeWill is free to use. Check it out. If you have questions, let me know.

And thanks always for all you do for the Berkshire outdoors. See you out there!  

rmontone [at] bnrc [dot] org
Director of Development
Berkshire Natural Resources Council

Easy Naturalist: Wildlife Signs and Tree Bark (self-guided walk)

Follow the signs along the 1.4-mile Green Trail. Each sign shares interesting and fun information to engage in observation and discovery.


The self-guided Easy Naturalist: Wildlife Sign and Tree Bark walk will be on display from Monday, February 6 to Sunday, March 5 (dawn to dusk) at The Boulders reserve in Dalton.  


To the trailhead parking area on Gulf Road, Dalton: take routes 8/9 east from the center of Pittsfield.  Take a left onto Park Avenue in Dalton, past Craneville School.  Take a left onto Gulf Road. Park at the pull-off on the left, opposite the parking for the Appalachian Trail. 

GPS: 42.4816, -73.1783 (trailhead parking on Gulf Road) 



BNRC is for Farmers

I love to end (or begin) a perfect day at one of the Berkshires’ many farm-sourced restaurants. And summers wouldn’t be complete without stops at Berkshire farmer’s markets or farm stores. I think we can agree that local, fresh ingredients just taste better.

Do you have a favorite spot to dine? Or a favorite marketplace? What is your favorite locally produced cheese?

We love our area farmers. But farmland is at risk across the United States and within the Berkshires. The latest Census of Agriculture, completed in 2017, showed a 10% decrease in the total number of Berkshire farms.

What will the 2022 census show? How many more farms will be subdivided because the land is worth more than the next generation of farmers can afford? Or because the farmer does not have heirs who want to take over the business?

As a BNRC donor you preserve Berkshire farms and support Berkshire farmers.

Donate to BNRC

The risk to farmland is, unfortunately, an issue nationwide.

The New York Times recently published this article: “Farmland Values Hit Record Highs, Pricing Out Farmers.”

The article highlights some distressing facts:

  • Nationwide, farmland values increased by 12.4%, the highest annual increase on record since 1970
  • Young farmers named “finding affordable land for purchase” the top challenge in 2022 in a National Young Farmers Coalition survey
  • About 40% of US farmland is rented, most of which is from landlords who aren’t actively involved in farming
  • Annually, less than 1% of farmland is available for sale

These facts are alarming. But together we can address these concerns in the Berkshires.

At BNRC, farmers and farmland are a top priority.

BNRC has facilitated the protection of thousands of acres of local farmland—in part using Agriculture Preservation Restrictions (APRs)—and will continue to do so.

BNRC purchases Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) shares–a system in which shares of a farmer’s harvest are purchased in advance, providing those farmers with immediate income at the beginning of the growing season to support their work.

BNRC also owns agricultural land, thanks to land donors. A thoughtful strategy is being developed by staff, with the help of other land trusts and community partners, to determine how to best serve local farmers with this land.

These efforts seek to ensure farmers can afford to live and work farms right here in the Berkshires. And to ensure residents and visitors can support local agriculture by shopping those farmer’s markets, those farm stores, those local restaurants.

These efforts are possible thanks to donors like you.

Donate to BNRC

BNRC is donor-funded. Your contributions today make all this happen in an ongoing way.

Thank you for all that you do as a BNRC donor!

Jenny Hansell
President, BNRC

Family Self-Guided StoryWalk, Housatonic Flats, Great Barrington

Saturday, December 10 – Sunday, January 2 (dawn to dusk)

Housatonic Flats, Great Barrington 

As you walk enjoy a story about a father that takes his child on an adventure to go owling for the first time on a cold winter night. Wordlessly the two companions walk along, for when you go owling you don’t need words. You don’t need anything but hope. Sometimes there isn’t an owl, but sometimes there is! While the audience of the book is 3-7-year-olds, the content is great for all ages- even adults!  


From Lee: From the Mass Pike/Big Y intersection, take Route 102 southwest toward Stockbridge. In Stockbridge turn left onto Route 7. After passing Monument Mountain, before reaching Price Chopper, look for the parking lot on the right side of the road.  

From Great Barrington: From the Price Chopper, head north on Route 7 for less than half a mile. Parking will be on the left.  

From Lenox: Take Route 7 or Route 7A south toward Great Barrington. After passing Monument Mountain, before reaching Price Chopper, look for the parking lot on the right side of the road.  

GPS: 42.216357, -73.343895 (Trailhead parking) 

For questions reach out to Mariah at 

Thank You Volunteers!

October 2022

By Charlotte Hood, Volunteer & Outreach Assistant

On a gorgeous fall afternoon, BNRC staff, volunteers, loved ones, and community partners gathered to recognize the hardworking and thoughtful individuals who volunteer their time to help care for Berkshire land and trails.  Coming together around food, drink, and games amidst the beautiful scenery of Wild Acres, a City of Pittsfield conservation property, painted a clear picture of how essential volunteers are to the sense of community and comradery that we value at BNRC.







With around 80 active volunteers, BNRC’s volunteer program is ever-growing.
 Volunteers in attendance went back as far as 30 years (shoutout to Ginny Akabane!) and as recently as this summer. Whether they be lifelong residents of Berkshire County or recent transplants, students, or retirees, we all unite around our love for the outdoors and the importance of access to nature for all.   

A short, leisurely hike to an observation tower at Wild Acres offered a spectacular view of Mahanna Cobble at the northern end of  Yokun Ridge. The creation of BNRC’s Mahanna Cobble reserve, (and many others) was made possible in large part by the hard work of volunteers, who helped build the dramatic switchback trail. Volunteers continue to help steward it by stocking maps (over 8,000 trail maps across BNRC reserves so far this year!), submitting trail reports, and helping clear blowdowns. 

The evening came to a close with an award ceremony—“Crushin’ It,” “Rock Star,” and “Ground Breaker” were among the titles—highlighting the dedication and personalities of volunteers. It was a time for us all to reflect with gratitude on the role volunteers play in the regional popularity of BNRC trails and reserves. Thank you, volunteers! 

If you’d like to learn more about volunteering with BNRC visit  



Your 2022 Autumn Newsyletter

Right now, BNRC donors are helping put together one of the largest land protection projects in BNRC history—one that will result in over 14,000 acres of contiguous conservation land.

I’ll get to that in a minute. First it’s important to remember how these projects come to be.

When you walk a BNRC property, when you pick berries, spot birds, and pause to enjoy the rushing waters or the soft breezes, take a moment to remember that every one of these places was once cared for by a family who had a choice to make.

When the land’s future was up for grabs, they made a choice that benefits all of us. And you make it possible for families to make conservation-minded decisions that shape the Berkshires forever.

Donate to BNRC

As this very busy summer winds down, it’s my pleasure to report to you on what you make possible when you donate to BNRC in 2022.

But first, this note about the past… and the future.

When I arrived at BNRC, we’d just celebrated its 50th anniversary with a big party. This year, BNRC is 55 and there’s no party. Instead, there’s… planning.

Yes, planning. If you’ve read some of my letters to you in the last few years, you’ll know I’m kind of a planning nerd. Along with BNRC’s (incredible) staff and (amazing) board, and you, we’re looking out 5, 10, 20 years and asking:

What does the Berkshires need that only BNRC can accomplish? (And by “BNRC” I mean all of us—staff, board, volunteers, donors, hikers…)

  • What lands are most endangered?
  • How can we build climate resilience?
  • Who doesn’t have access to nature?

About that last question: a few weeks ago, a team of Roots Rising Farm Crew teens took a walk at the Old Mill Trail in Hinsdale, with BNRC’s Director of Public Programs, Mackenzie Greer. She’s also a Roots Rising board member and is passionate about its mission to empower teens through farming, food, and meaningful work.

She shared with me that the teens were particularly excited that the Old Mill is accessible—they really connected to the importance of making it easy for people to experience nature.

The Old Mill, and Parsons Marsh, and the Hoosac Range, and over 50 other properties that you’ve helped protect, make it possible for teenagers to connect to nature. For people with physical challenges to get outside. For toddlers to discover their first salamander.

You help people experience the transformative power of nature.

Donate to BNRC

So, about those 14,000 acres.

You are leveraging enormous investment in nature.

Right now, you’re helping BNRC with one of the largest projects it has ever done—connecting over 14,000 acres in Monterey and Tyringham. It includes 836 acres of new conservation land (about the size of NYC’s Central Park).

Over $800,000 in donations from BNRC supporters will leverage nearly $2.4 million in grants and in-kind donations from state agencies and foundations.

The result: connecting, and adding to, large swaths of already-conserved land to create a habitat corridor for black bear, moose, and bobcat. Opening new opportunities for hiking, snowshoeing, fishing, mountain-biking, and swimming. Building the climate resilience of the Berkshires.

This happens when we build partnerships:

  • with families, who trust BNRC to look out for their interests and care for their land;
  • with other conservation organizations, who work together on projects;
  • and with state agencies, who know they can rely on BNRC to complete large and complex projects with integrity.

Huge as it is, this is only one of the projects in progress right now.

New land and farm conservation is going on in West Stockbridge, Richmond, Lenox, Great Barrington, Lanesborough, Williamstown, Sandisfield, and New Marlborough.

And trail and habitat improvements are underway in Great Barrington, Lee, North Adams, Dalton, and Pittsfield.


Thanks to you.

Donate to BNRC

You’ll see some new faces in the field… and in the office.

The NEW office, I mean—BNRC recently moved to sunny, spacious new digs in Lenox. In the Landkeepers Report, you met the summer crew—those hardworking folk who are doing the backbreaking work of moving rocks, heaving logs, and creating those effortless-looking foot paths.

You may have also run into Charlotte Hood out on the trail. BNRC’s new Volunteer and Outreach Assistant, this NYC native always found herself drawn to the natural world, whether it be the pigeon outside the window or the classroom bunny.

She quickly found herself at home amongst the trees while attending Skidmore College in upstate New York. With a degree in Environmental Studies and a background in environmental education, Charlotte loves sharing her love for nature with you.

I’m also really excited to welcome Deanna Smith, High Road Manager. Deanna owned her own trail-planning and building company, constructing trails across the country and the Berkshires. She is committed to sustainable and equitable access to nature. Deanna is hard at work fleshing out the plan for the next High Road legs throughout the county. I know she is really looking forward to sharing them with you.

And a few key people behind the scenes, too: Ashley Winseck joins us as the Special Assistant to the President. That lofty-sounding title doesn’t come close to describing the wizardry she is bringing to every aspect of the organization. She does everything from figuring out the best project management software to keeping track of all the board committees, all the while keeping me and BNRC’s meetings organized.

And Kathleen Mosher is BNRC’s new Assistant Director of Development. You will be hearing a lot from her—she’s organizing all kinds of get-togethers to help you stay in the know and connected to the work going on to care for and protect your Berkshires.

One final summertime thought:

Everything we do depends on dozens, if not hundreds of friends.

That’s one reason we are determined to pursue ideas and initiatives that benefit the whole community… to foster a belief that land can be shared, with plants and animals as well as with each other.

Your friendship and financial support is indispensable to successful projects like these… it’s essential to building a stronger community.

Thank you for caring for this land we all share.

Donate to BNRC

Yours truly,

Jenny Hansell

Naturalista Sin Complicaciones: Todo sobre el Otoño (caminata autoguiada) en el Old Mill Trail, Dalton/Hinsdale

Sábado, 17 de septiembre – lunes, 24 de octubre   

Old Mill Trail, Dalton  

El otoño es la época perfecta para realizar una curiosa caminata por el bosque. Profundice su conocimiento sobre los cambios que experimentan las plantas y los animales mientras se preparan para el invierno, aprendiendo qué señales buscar mientras disfruta del aire fresco y las coloridas hojas. ¿Por qué cambian de color las hojas? ¿Qué animales migran o se preparan para la hibernación? Descubra las respuestas a estas preguntas y a muchas más. Esta actividad estará ubicada en el Old Mill Trail de Dalton durante un mes y es apta para todas las edades. El sendero se considera de fácil acceso – 1,4 millas de ida y vuelta y con una superficie relativamente plana.  


Desde el centro de Dalton: tome la Ruta 8 hacia el sur hasta la frontera de Hinsdale. Desde la frontera del pueblo, continúe 4/10 millas hasta girar a la izquierda en Old Dalton Road. El estacionamiento del sendero es el primero que encontrará a la izquierda. 

GPS: 42.4480, -73.1305 (estacionamiento al inicio del sendero) 

Si tiene preguntas, por favor, comuníquese a No es necesario realizar una inscripción para asistir al evento. 

Autumn Appreciation Hike, Hoosac Range, North Adams

Hoosac Range, North Adams 

Sunday, October 2nd   

10:00 am – 12:00 pm

Enjoy the crisp air and beautiful colors of peak fall foliage along Hoosac Range’s ridgeline hike to Sunset Rock. We will enjoy a special fall treat at the summit as we appreciate the spectacular view of North Adams, Mount Greylock, and the Green Mountains. In honor of Indigenous People’s Day, we will also discuss the history and significance of nearby Mohican Mohawk Trail. This hike will be 1.6 miles roundtrip, including moderate elevation gain.  

Well behaved dogs on leash are welcome.  


From North Adams: Take Route 2 east. Past the hairpin, on the top of the hill, the parking and trailhead will be on your right. 

From Pittsfield: Take Route 8 North, at the Cumberland Farms in North Adams, take a right onto 8A. Then take a right, heading east on Route 2. The trailhead parking is on the right at the top of the hill, immediately after the Wigwam Cabins. 

GPS: 42.6965, -73.0648 (Trailhead parking) 

For questions reach out to 


The Easy Naturalist: All About Autumn (self-guided walk) at the Old Mill Trail, Dalton/Hinsdale

Wednesday, September 21st – Wednesday, October 26th   

Old Mill Trail, Dalton  

Autumn is the perfect time for an inquisitive walk through the woods. Deepen your understanding of the changes plant and animal life undergo as they prepare for winter, learning what signs to look for as you enjoy the crisp air and colorful leaves. Why do leaves change color, anyway? Which animals are migrating or preparing for hibernation? Find out answers to these questions, and many more. This installation will be up at the Old Mill Trail in Dalton for a month and is friendly for all ages. The trail is considered easy – 1.4 miles roundtrip and relatively flat surface.  


From the center of Dalton: take Route 8 south to the Hinsdale line. From the town line, continue 4/10 miles to a left on Old Dalton Road. The trailhead parking is the first, immediate left. 

GPS: 42.4480, -73.1305 (trailhead parking) 

For questions reach out to No registration necessary.  

Nest Watch: Feathered Fun with Community Science

July 2022 

By Charlotte Hood, Volunteer and Outreach Assistant 

Watching eggs hatch and baby birds grow for science? Yup! This is BNRC’s first season participating in Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology NestWatch program, and what fun it has been!  

NestWatch is a nationwide program designed to track the status and trends in the reproductive biology of birds, including the timing of nesting, number of eggs laid, how many eggs hatch, and how many hatchlings survive. The data participants help collect is used to study the condition of bird populations and how they may be changing over time due to environmental stressors such as climate change and habitat loss. Given that there has been a nearly 30% reduction in the North American bird population since 1970, research like this has never been so important (Rosenberg et al, 2019).  

Among the volunteer participants was a family of homeschoolers who were quite literally doing this for science (class!). They braved the chilly spring and muddy trail, and it paid off, opening their box one day to find these beautiful eastern bluebird eggs and then a few days later, naked nestlings!


Another participant battled a pesky and persistent field mouse who kept returning to the nest box to make its home. Perhaps it confused itself for a bird? Thankfully, this dedicated volunteer was just as persistent and found a different nest box with a tree swallow nest. Tree swallow nests are easily distinguished from eastern bluebird nests by the feathers that characterize their nesting material. Additionally, tree swallow eggs are pinkish white, quite different from the eastern bluebird’s turquoise (see photos). 

 As we near the end of July, adult tree swallows and their fledglings are gearing up for their southern migration to overwintering sites in Florida and Central America, an early trip for songbirds. Meanwhile, eastern bluebirds are attempting a second and sometimes even a third brood, not migrating south until later in the season.  

If you don’t have the time to participate in NestWatch you can make a difference by building your own nest box. Tree swallows and eastern bluebirds use the same nest box, so you can attract both species to your property and support their reproduction. See All About Birdhouses for more details and a free, downloadable construction plan.  

By participating in NestWatch, BNRC was able to offer the public a new way of interacting with the natural world – an intimate window into the life of birds, and the chance to make a difference. For kids and adults alike, NestWatch offers a beginner-friendly introduction to the biology of birds and data collection and allows land trusts like BNRC to broaden our sphere of influence.  

Are you interested in participating or learning more? Send an email to Charlotte at or visit NestWatch online.


Rosenberg KV, Dokter AM, Blancher PJ, Sauer JR, Smith AC, Smith PA, Stanton JC, Panjabi A, Helft L, Parr M, Marra PP. Decline of the North American avifauna. Science. 2019 Oct 4;366(6461):120-124. doi: 10.1126/science.aaw1313. Epub 2019 Sep 19. PMID: 31604313.