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The Berkshires, Past, Present and Future

Posted Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Karen Ross, volunteer and board member, reflects on life growing up in the woods.

My dream job? Working as a volunteer for BNRC for almost 20 years. And how did I get so lucky?

Growing up in Pittsfield was a delight, especially if you loved the outdoors with its readily available hiking, skiing, and swimming. And then, Oh these mountains—what a lovely backdrop to be sheltered within. As kids we used to be “shooed” out the door and could run off to the woods to wander around, investigate ponds, and yes, even drink the stream water! Childhood experiences like these naturally morphed into an adult realization of how vulnerable our natural places and resources are. What could be better than working to protect them!

When I returned to the Berkshires in the later 70s, there was BNRC starting to make a real impact on conserving lands. By 2001 it was going strong, and I offered to do some volunteer work—whatever was needed. At that time, another hand to manage office files, help digitize records, get mailings out, paint boundaries, get conservation restriction monitoring done, and check out prospective acquisitions was welcome. It was a heady time as land trusts were becoming more professional and accountable and were more and more in the public eye, taking on additional roles as stewards of conserved lands, as educators, and as sources of recreational opportunities. I was hooked.

I loved being in the office, gathering a group of friends to stuff envelopes or making “to do” lists of issues that needed attention, but even more I loved tramping about on properties, trailing after interns and stewardship staff through the prickers and underbrush, my clipboard in hand, trying to figure out property lines by measuring UTM grids on a map (it was pre GPS/GIS days) and taking notes on the habitats and features of prospective parcels. We responsibly monitored easements and documented flora and fauna and parcel conditions. These were all wonderful days.

Each year of volunteering has been a pleasure. The people I’ve met—landowners who love their land and want to preserve it, neighbors of BNRC’s properties who come out to clean up and maintain the trails, volunteers who show up to haul mud, cut out invasives, and blaze trails—all share a deep affection for the Berkshires and the future of open space. It’s been a continuing honor to work with BNRC’s outstanding and dedicated staff. They have always made me feel so welcome, and I think that’s true for all our volunteers. I do less climbing up cliffs and balancing on slippery stone walls these days, but there’s always a job that needs doing that a willing volunteer can do. It’s been fun to be part of the lively tribal spirit that drives people to dedicate their working lives to preserving and caring for the natural resources of the Berkshires. Might I say that they are doing the hard work of making sure we have a viable future for our grandchildren.

I have so many favorite BNRC properties. Each is unique and offers something special in atmosphere, views or experiences. The buffet of opportunities out there is endless! And I have no intention of dieting!  Most recently, BNRC has worked to acquire lands along the ridge that extends from Hollow Fields in Richmond north to Rt. 20 in Hancock, which is not far from where I live. I and some neighbors have maintained the Perry’s Peak trail up there hoping it would someday be a public way and am thrilled that BNRC’s Berkshire Farm acquisition will mean protection in perpetuity for these historic lands. One of our local hiking groups, the Taconic Hiking Club, is benefiting from a collaborative process with BNRC to bring attention to this ridge and to help steward it. Networks and collaborations like these bring together communities of hikers, bikers, birdwatchers, and all lovers of the outdoors.

Having a role on BNRC’s Board these past several years also brings a new dimension to my “job,” one that adds a different perspective to the important work that is being done throughout the county. Efforts to realize the High Road goals are in progress, and I hope someday I get to walk the first stretch that will be signed as a segment of “The High Road.”  Every association I have with BNRC only increases my conviction that it richly deserves its stellar reputation.

BNRC has woven itself deeply into our Berkshire lives and all of us—locals, second-homers, vacationers, and recreationists of all stripes—benefit. Look in any direction from any town, and you’ll find a nearby property where BNRC offers places for hiking, biking, skiing, dog walking, hunting, or just experiencing the beauty of this region.

I can’t imagine the Berkshires without BNRC. We are lucky beyond belief to have them working here to make our lives so much better, and it’s an honor to be part of the BNRC family. You’re welcome to join us if you haven’t already!