CHESHIRE, Mass. — A tenting site planned for hikers on the Appalachian Trail is nearing completion.
The site is designed to give hikers a short one- or two-night respite and a place to charge their phones and get clean water. Hikers have been welcome to use an area at St. Mary's Church but will now be redirected very slightly down Church Street.
"This past weekend there was some great progress made with 13 volunteers to get the campsite ready for opening. There were several poles installed for hammocks, there was a bike shed that was built, we placed a gravel pad for the upcoming porta potty, and a kiosk was built for information for the hikers," Appalachian Trail Committee Chairwoman Eileen Quinn told the Selectmen on Tuesday.
Quinn said that although the site isn't officially open there have already been some hikers using it for a night.
"Two weekends ago we had three or four tents, this last weekend there were six tents plus someone in a hammock so we feel like we're at the point where we should have a soft opening," she said, adding it was important to get a portable toilet immediate "so they do not use the woods near the stream. Also we need to get a trash can."
Both the Boards of Selectmen and Health were supportive of the portable toilet and trash can eventually being placed on site but wanted to pump the brakes slightly because of the COVID-19 restrictions.
"We haven't been able to officially allow the site to open based on the protocols and the phased reopening guidelines from the state and also for the Appalachian Trail. In terms of the soft opening I don't know if we necessarily are at the point of ... we really can't do a soft opening but basically it's just providing some sanitary objects there," Chairwoman Michelle Francesconi said. "Hikers are already camping even though we don't want to over encourage it, but they are camping and obviously they need to use a bathroom somewhere."
The town will need to incorporate the tent site into its reopening plan before officially opening to hikers. Francesconi said the board will put the opening of the site on next week's agenda.
The town had started looking more than a year ago to find a suitable replacement for the St. Mary's site, particularly in light of Cheshire becoming an Appalachian Trail Community in 2018. There are only 40 communities along the 2,200 mile trail from Georgia to Maine; Cheshire is one of four in Massachusetts with others being Great Barrington, Dalton and North Adams. Some 2 million people hike all or part of the trail each year.
The Cheshire school grounds had initially been considered but the building's location in a residential area prohibited camping as a use. So the camping site was shifted toward the town garage with Planning Board approval last summer.
The next meeting of the Board of Selectmen will be Tuesday, July 7 at 6:30 p.m. and will be held virtually. See the town's website for login information.