Dalton Designated As An 'Appalachian Trail Community'
The Appalachian Trail Conservancy has designated Dalton an Appalachian Trail Community, just the third town in the Berkshires to receive that designation - Great Barrington and North Adams are the other two in the Berkshires.
Overall, the town joins more than 40 others along the 2,200-mile-long trail from Georgia to Maine in the network of communities embracing its relationship with the trail.
"The designation gives Dalton more exposure on the ATC website and guidebooks for the hikers. And it also helps with ways businesses can promote the fact that they exist and bring it to the hiker's awareness," said Margaret Cahill, who co-chaired an Appalachian Trail committee under the Grow Dalton Initiative.
Of course, that Dalton being welcoming to hikers isn't anything new. Resident Tom Levardi has been letting hikers camp out in his back yard for years and the CRA allows the hikers to shower. But the designation makes it very clear to everybody that the town values that the trail runs through it.
"We have hikers coming through here all of the time. We have been a hiker-friendly town for a long time," Cahill said.
Adam Brown, a conservation manager with the conservancy, said towns like Dalton help achieve the vision set out by Benton MacKaye in 1925.
"The original vision for the Appalachian Trail by the founder Benton MacKaye was that people would hike from community to community. The hikers come into town to resupply, maybe get a hotel and a shower, stay off the trail for the day. It is important that the community embraces that. Every summer, like clockwork, there are a great number of hikers coming through every year," Brown said.
The trail cuts through 14 states and right into downtown. Every year hundreds of hikers find their way to local businesses and that relationship is something the designation is eyed to expand.
"There are more things the hikers ask for and we are hoping to meet those needs," Cahill said.
For example, Cahill said Grow Dalton asked Levardi what he hears from the hikers and he told them postcards. There weren't many postcards available in local shops. Grow Dalton raised funds and this year purchased 1,000 post cards to place in shops, the CRA, and the post office for hikers to take.
She said companies like Sweat Pea's Ice Cream and LP Adams routinely answered the needs to hikers and more and more Grow Dalton learns about what supplies the hikers want, the more and more they will seek out ways to bring the products there.
State Rep. Paul Mark called the relationship an "enhancement" to what the town already has going for it.
"It enhances what kind of a town this is and makes itself more attractive, a beautiful place that people are going to want to come to for so many reasons. There are a lot of good things going on," Mark said.
Hawk Metheny, the New England regional director for the conservancy, said that is a two-way street though. He said not only does it benefit the towns to receive the designation, but it helps promote use and conservation of the trail locally.
"We started the program back in 2007, almost 10 years ago now, and initially it was a way to recognize communities along the trail that was providing service to hikers as they come through and to promote use and enjoyment, protection of the Appalachian Trail in the town," Metheny said.
With towns embracing their role and relationship with the trail, that brings more "eyes and ears" toward protecting the trail and the land surrounding it.
Town Manager Kenneth Walto thinks the designation "is a great thing for Dalton." He said Dalton will do its part in promoting the trail with signage and a new complete street project on High Street to bring sidewalks for the hikers to get to and from the trail.
"We are going to be doing our part in Dalton to enhance the Appalachian Trail. We've got $400,000 in new construction programmed on High Street. The entire sidewalk system on High Street will be built," Walto said.
"Currently, we are a non-profit organization that works with 31 separate trail clubs between Georgia and Maine. We work with federal and state land agencies to protect and conserve land around the trail. We offer volunteer opportunities directly through volunteer trail crews and events like this. We monitor for external threats, so any development that may negatively impact the AT, we monitor and get involved," Metheny said.
"We're the organization that ties it all together and make it work. Otherwise, we'd have 31 distinct efforts. This is a way to bring it together."
Grow Dalton is a locally organized business group seeking ways to work together to help each other. Cahill said the group held its first public meeting in 2015 for brainstorming to better align its business offerings and since then the local businesses have been working cooperatively.
"The business community is talking with each other," Cahill said.
The groups celebrated the designation on Saturday at Pine Grove Park with hikes and food. Dalton Firemen's Association President Scott Casella and John Kelly, owner of Kelly's Package Store, donated food and beverages for the ceremony.
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