Finding Myself — And a Network of South County Trails
We are an indoors people, my family. A walk after a big Thanksgiving dinner was the extent of my childhood experiences outdoors with my parents. But they sent me to summer camp, where I learned to light fires and pitch tents. Raised in a big city, I loved being in the woods.
In college I considered taking a class called Local Flora, but my dad laughed and said, “Why would you do that?” So I didn’t.
I spent most of the years since my camp days sitting in front of a computer. A few years ago, after 17 years as executive director of the North East Community Center in Millerton, N.Y., I had the good fortune to land a job at the Berkshire Natural Resources Council (BNRC) in Pittsfield, Mass. A countywide land trust, BNRC maintains more than 50 miles of trails, and I made a commitment (out loud, in an interview) to hike all of them my first summer on the job.
It did not go well. Overweight and out of shape, I was eager to fit in with the lean outdoorsy types I was working with. I pushed too hard and badly injured my Achilles tendon.
But gradually I got out more, exploring BNRC trails from Egremont to North Adams. BNRC launched a trails app, and I loved using it — still a bit uncertain out in the woods, I found it comforting to see my blue dot moving on the trail.
My first big test after my ankle healed was an 8-mile staff hike over Yokun Ridge, which connects Pittsfield to Lenox. The trail will officially open next spring and will be the first leg of BNRC’s ambitious project, The High Road, which will be a network of trails connecting town to town throughout the Berkshires.
I was worried that day that I couldn’t hike 8 miles, that colleagues would have to stop and wait for me, or that I’d have to turn back. But I made it: up to the ridge, where the reward was a panoramic view all the way to the Catskills, and back down.
Hiking has become my solace. It’s my therapy, my social time, my time away from phones, politics, pandemics. A few hypnosis sessions helped me take off the weight, and I feel healthier than I have in many years.
I took the job at BNRC because I wanted to make some bit of difference in the climate fight. Now, more than ever, I appreciate the fields and forests, the wetlands and ridgetops that surround us in the Tristate area.
Find all the trails at ww.BNRC.org and the Berkshire Trails app on the Google and Apple app stores.
Jenny Hansell is president of the Berkshire Natural Resources Council.