Cheshire Holds Dedication for Father Tom Campsite
CHESHIRE, Mass. — Three years after the town received its official Appalachian Trail Community designation, nearly 100 community members gathered for a dedication of the Father Tom Appalachian Trail campsite.
The site, located at 6 Main St., is named after former pastor of St. Mary's Church, the Rev. Thomas Begley and opened in late 2020. The dedication, which included a ribbon-cutting by members of Begley's family, was part of the town's third annual Appalachian Trail community celebration on Friday.
"Over the past three years, the town government, along with a dedicated group of volunteers and supporters, have invested significant energy into the campsite, making it what it is today," said Cheshire AT community coordinator Eileen Quinn. "Cheshire, being one of only 51 officially designated Appalachian Trail communities, has become quite famous within thru-hiker circles for this one-of-a-kind refuge."
Quinn said the need for such a campsite came when the church could no longer offer housing for Appalachian Trail hikers, a practice Begley had started.
"Father Tom provided the church hall as a safe haven for over 6,000 hikers from around the globe," she said. "His conversations with these visitors inspired Father Tom to hike the trail himself, and he finished the entire 2,200 miles over a 12-year period."
Selectmen Michelle Francesconi, Ronald DeAngelis and Shawn McGrath attended the ceremony. Francesconi said she, despite not knowing Begley well, had heard numerous stories from residents of his dedication to Cheshire.
"I think that the people really came together and recognized that the spirit of what Father Tom created needed to be recreated and moved here," she said, "And I think everybody has done an amazing job pulling that together. Despite the challenges of COVID-19, the site is an amazing stopping point on the Appalachian Trail. It's something that I know that Father Tom would consider to be a blessing."
Jim Masse, Begley's brother-in-law, thanked the community for the dedication, noting how much Begley would have enjoyed the site.
"Father Tom really revered the beauty, the sacred beauty, of nature," he said. "So it is in this dedication we echo his reverence. Wouldn't he be happy?"
State Rep. John Barrett III was in attendance and said the campsite would not have been possible without the work of Begley and others in the Cheshire Community.
"When you can touch the lives of people that you've never met in a positive way, then you know your walk through life has been a good one. Father Tom's walk through life was a good one," he said. "And we should emulate what he's done."
Tags: Appalachian Trail, camping,