Expanded Historic Shaker Hiking Trail to Open This Summer
HANCOCK, Mass. — Mill Town Capital, Hancock Shaker Village, and Greenagers are collaborating to reveal the archeological remains of five Shaker buildings from 1800 in a new trail that opens in mid-July.
The route will be a spur off the U-shaped Farm and Forest Trail that runs through the southern woods below the historic Hancock Shaker Village on Route 20.
In the spring 2021 session of the Berkshire Outdoor Recreation Summit, representatives from the entities explained how the partnership is tying in historical education, outdoor recreation, and art in this project.
"What is so encouraging about the Berkshires as a whole is that there's a lot of collaboration, I think across industries and different partners," Mill Town's Managing Director Carrie Holland said. "It's a collaborative community, I think that's in part what makes this county so special. I think the outdoor recreation space is twofold, it's doubling down on collaboration and the community is really strong and I think it's very encouraging for others to participate and get involved."
The Shakers originally owned about 2,000 acres in Richmond, Hancock, and in Pittsfield and gave over 1,000 acres to what is now Pittsfield State Forest, where you can find the Shaker Trail that leads up to their holy Mount Sinai.
In 1800, when the Shakers were expanding, they set up a cluster of buildings south of the now historic village called South Family. These structures were used for new believers to get a taste of Shakerism.
By 1849, the South Family Buildings were abandoned and everyone lived in the central part of the village. Eventually, the South Family structures were taken over by the elements and the foundations were hardly visible under vegetation.
"Two winters ago I was hiking in there and you can barely find the foundations because of the brambles and the trees and it's pretty deep in there," Hancock Shaker Village CEO Jennifer Trainer said. "I think that if we waited another 30 years or so, they might totally be enveloped by the land."
Greenagers is an organization that engages teens and young adults in meaningful environmental work including trail crews, farm crews, and volunteer teams. Director Will Conklin said the trail building at Hancock Shaker Village is "bread and butter" trail work in terms of creating ways through the forest for people to access different sites.
"Not only are we doing the bread and butter work, the kids are learning how to show up to work on time, they're learning how to employ some skills, they're learning how to work with each other and communicate, but they're also doing this on one of the jewels of Berkshire County where it may well be their first experience on a site like this, and they're coming at it as a needed part of it," He said.
"But the richest part of it for us is getting kids to be themselves, we're a youth-based organization and we do we focus on sustainable agriculture we focus on conservation and obviously the HSP partnership encompasses all of that."
Additionally, Mill Town is working with Hancock Shaker Village to install artwork along the Shaker Trail that leads to a sacred space used by the believers that were rediscovered in the 1960s.
In the mid-1800s there were 19 Shaker communities in the United States, Trainer explained, and through a religious entity, they were told to find the nearest mountain and clear the top to create a sacred space that wound up being in the Berkshires.
"If you can imagine the entire village that the elderly and the young would be taken in ox carts and they would go up to what they call Mount Sinai and a hiker in the Berkshires in the '60s found this spot and with the help of the Boy Scouts cleared this trail," she added. "Now we're working with Mill Town in Pittsfield State Forest to clarify that trail more."
Also in the session, senior planner at Berkshire Regional Planning Commission Laura Brennan gave an update on the commission’s countywide Outdoor Recreation Plan that was published in July of 2020 with funding and support from Mill Town.
The 210-page report outlines an analysis of the existing outdoor recreation landscape of the Berkshires as well as recommendations for expansion
Focus areas include major developments in themes of infrastructure, communications, and legislative/regulatory processes and activity areas including biking, camping, hiking, outdoor athletics, and winter sports.
Brennan highlighted the guided tour startup Berkshire Camino LLC’s achievements since the plan was published and the "overlaps and intersections occurring between different land management organizations."
"Last year, in particular, we saw a lot of a lot of hiking and trail activity and in part because of the COVID-19 dynamic and the growth overall in outdoor recreation in the Berkshires," Holland said. "And I think there were a lot of new people who were reacquainted with hiking and trail activity, and a lot of people completely new to it."
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