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A forest view from Mohawk State Forest.

Williamstown's Art Chairing Mohawk Trail Woodlands Partnership

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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Tom Matuszko, left, of BRPC and Hank Art appear before the Select Board to discuss the Mohawk Trail Woodlands Partnership last year.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Mohawk Trail Woodlands Partnership took a half-dozen years to come to fruition, but its member towns are wasting no time taking advantage of the opportunities it provides.
"We were only authorized in the fall, and there's been a round of small grants," Williamstown representative Henry Art said last week. "Ten towns have applied for $25,000 $20,000 in grants from the state for trails and access improvement or carbon sequestration projects. … The towns will manage woodlands not just for saw logs and various products removed from the site but for sequestration as well.
"It's off and running."
Earlier in the week, Art was elected to chair the large MTWP board that will govern the partnership, a collaborative effort spearheaded by the Franklin Regional Council of Governments and the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission.
"[The partnership] presents a model that brings the resources of the U.S. Forest Service with statewide forestry and environmental resources and people from UMass Forestry together for probably the first time to have regionwide sustainable and ecologically relevant management to our forestry resources," Art said. "The idea that we will have individual landowners educated and have resources available to them to undertake sustainable resource management on their property is a huge step forward.
"We're in a region with a lot of forests and a lot of forestry going on. But most of the operations are not looked upon as having criteria for sustainability. Often, what happens is someone is holding land of 10 acres or less. They want to sell it, so they have it logged, and the logging done is not necessarily done for the benefit of future generations of forest or for the landowners themselves, for that matter. The new owner is purchasing something of reduced value in terms of forest resources and the environment than it should be."
The board Art now chairs includes a representative from each of the 14 municipalities (including Adams, Cheshire, New Ashford, North Adams, Peru and Windsor in Berkshire County) who have signed on to the partnership, the USDA and 14 state and local organizations, including the BRPC, Lever Inc., the Hoosic River Watershed Association and the University of Massachusetts' Department of Public Health and Health Sciences.
That makes 28 members of the board total, plus the potential of seven more if towns like Clarksburg, Florida and Savoy choose to join the partnership at a later date.
Getting a quorum of that group together would be a daunting task for any chair. Art said fortunately the plan is to get the full board together just two to four times a year, starting with the partnership's first annual meeting, set for June 2.
"A lot of the work of the board will be done by subcommittees of probably five people drawn from a good representation of the municipal representatives and other kinds of expertise on the board," Art said. "We'll have some standing committees and subcommittees that are looking at specific issues that will do work in between the meetings of the entire board."
The partnership also will have a full-time administrator, who Art hopes to have on board by the first of July.
A lot of the group's infrastructure — like electing a full executive committee and finding a location for the administrator's office — remains to be determined. But at its most recent meeting, the board still was working without a budget, which will be determined by action in Boston and Washington, D.C.
Identifying the administrator will be a major step.
"It's something we want to move on in the next five months, having someone who can fill that role," Art said. "There is a considerable amount of work to be done, and I don't think you can expect an all-volunteer board to devote the time and energy to do all that."
One thing Art was clear on: the MTWP board has a clear purpose in mind. It wants to support forest conservation while fostering sustainable economic development in the region.
The economic development piece generated some concerns among a number of residents in Williamstown, one of the last municipalities to join the partnership. One thing that appeared to grease the skids for that decision was the commitment by Art, an emeritus professor of environmental studies at Williams College, to serve on the MTWP board.
He noted last week that while early discussions of the MTWP included suggestions that wood chip and biomass production could be part of the economic development strategy, the enabling legislation prohibited MTWP funds from supporting biomass or wood pellet facilities.
And he said it is more important than ever that healthy, sustainable forests be protected.
"In terms of forest management, we are entering a new situation in which it's clear forests have a role to play in mitigating climate change," Art said. "They will never be the complete answer because we need to do something on the production of greenhouse gasses, and forests can only do so much.
"I think [the partnership] is … a significant step forward and could serve as a model for a new kind of relationship aimed at natural resource stewardship and economic development that is quite unique."

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Williamstown Volunteer of the Year Speaks for the Voiceless

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff

Andi Bryant was presented the annual Community Service Award. 
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Inclusion was a big topic at Thursday's annual town meeting — and not just because of arguments about the inclusivity of the Progress Pride flag.
The winner of this year's Scarborough-Salomon-Flynt Community Service Award had some thoughts about how exclusive the town has been and is.
"I want to talk about the financially downtrodden, the poor folk, the deprived, the indigent, the impoverished, the lower class," Andi Bryant said at the outset of the meeting. "I owe it to my mother to say something — a woman who taught me it was possible to make a meal out of almost nothing.
"I owe it to my dad to say something, a man who loved this town more than anyone I ever knew. A man who knew everyone, but almost no one knew what it was like for him. As he himself said, 'He didn't have a pot to piss in or a window to throw it out of.' "
Bryant was recognized by the Scarborough-Salomon-Flynt Committee as the organizer and manager of Remedy Hall, a new non-profit dedicated to providing daily necessities — everything from wheelchairs to plates to toothpaste — for those in need.
She started the non-profit in space at First Congregational Church where people can come and receive items, no questions asked, and learn about other services that are available in the community.
She told the town meeting members that people in difficult financial situations do, in fact, exist in Williamstown, despite the perceptions of many in and out of the town.
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