Berkshire Natural Resources Council President Talks Spring Hikes
As days grow longer and temperatures warm, now is a great time to get outdoors and enjoy the beauty of springtime in the Berkshires. To help you plan your outing, we asked Jenny Hansell, president of the Berkshire Natural Resources Council (BNRC), about their network of trails and conservation land throughout the county—all open to the public and free.
The BNRC was formed over 50 years ago with a vision of acquiring and maintaining private and public properties throughout Berkshire county for preservation and recreation. Hansell joined the organization in late 2017 as its third president. Growing up in Detroit, she saw urban sprawl turn nearby farmland and scenic areas into suburbia. “You don’t get that land back,” she says.
Three years into her role with BNRC, Hansell says she still marvels at the work being done to conserve the land heritage of the Berkshires and connect people to the environment. “What we’re doing is in perpetuity,” she says. “We need these forests, we need clean water, wildlife needs connectivity. We don’t want the Berkshires chopped up or polluted.”
Part of the strategic plan of the BNRC is a 100% walkable Berkshires. That is, connecting south, central, and northern county end to end with walking trails that not only wend through serene forests, meadows, and foothills but also bring travelers into town centers, not unlike the experience of walking the Coast to Coast Trail in England or Spain’s Camino de Santiago. The Berkshire High Road, as it is known, is the brainchild of former BNRC president Tad Ames who in 2014 envisioned a continuous footpath from the Connecticut border in the south to Vermont in the north. This month, a seven-mile segment opens, linking the summit of Bousquet Mountain in Pittsfield to Olivia’s Overlook (pictured above) in Lenox by way of the Northern Yokun Ridge and land owned by Mass Audubon.
Before you grab your hiking boots and head out exploring the wonders of nature in the Berkshires, download the BNRC’s Berkshire Trails app for info and maps. Looking for a place to go birdwatching, fishing, swimming, or mountain biking? Filter by activity. Want recommendations for lodging, restaurants, and other nearby recreational experiences? That’s included too. You can even create your own custom routes and share them via text or social media.
The BNRC’s website offers extensive recommendations for field guides, documentaries, maps, and related websites that can help you learn about and engage in the unique natural beauty of the Berkshires. You’ll also find info on the site about helping preserve and conserve the Berkshires as a BNRC Landkeeper.
There are many places, and ways, to enjoy the scenic views and vistas of the Berkshire landscape. For Hansell, one of her favorite outdoor activities is plein air painting at BNRC properties such as Parsons Marsh in Lenox. “Such a wonderful way to spend the day,” she says. “You’ve got the light on the trees and the water, it’s very meditative. You come away from painting so renewed.”