Five Franklin County towns in the Mohawk Trail Woodlands Partnership Region have received grant funding from the state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs and Baker-Polito Administration.
The $313,500 in grant funding will assist 10 municipalities and two regional development organizations in the Partnership Region to fund forest stewardship, conservation, trail improvements and nature-based tourism. The partnership is a grass-roots led program focused on conserving forests and supporting sustainable management with relation to economic development in rural communities.
“The program provides funding to assist towns in the commonwealth’s most rural and forested region to plan for the care of forests in the face of climate change, prepare forest offset projects, and improve nature-based tourism by improving trail networks, infrastructure, and educational exhibits,” according to a press release..
Ashfield, Charlemont, Hawley, Heath and Rowe were each awarded grant funding for projects that will reportedly improve access to outdoor recreation, promote local wood use and bolster emergency response in remote areas.
Ashfield, in its third consecutive year receiving this grant, was awarded $16,500 towards building a recycling center building.
“We will be utilizing local timber and a local contractor who builds timber-frame structures to replace the operator shed at our transfer station,” Rick Chandler, Ashfield’s representative to the Mohawk Trail Woodlands Partnership, said.
The town is working with the state Department of Environmental Protection to cover an old dump at the same site and to improve the flow and safety of its transfer station.
Chandler added that part of this project serves to promote using local businesses and materials to support and maintain the woodlands of the area, as the structure is an example of a locally sourced and constructed building. The structure will also include an area for local building trades craftspeople to make their services known users and residents.
“The structure can also serve as a comfortable base for students in our local schools to learn about practical and realistic local recycling efforts as part of the revamped transfer station,” Chandler continued.
Education is intertwined in Rowe’s plan, too, as it works to continue its forest planning project.
“A big part of this is educating young people about stewardship of forest lands and protecting the environment,” Town Executive Secretary Janice Boudreau said of the Rowe’s recent work to construct informational kiosks at trail heads and begin to update mapping around the area.
With $20,000, town mapping will eventually allow people to use their phones to figure out where they’re at on the trails and to identify areas of old growth, which would create a both interactive and physical mapping system. Boudreau noted that the town’s 1,480 acres of public trails, wildlife areas and forested areas then will be more accessible.
Another third-year recipe is Heath, which will continue work done in prior years — working on hiking trails and signs, expanding and purchasing natural land — as well as make new additions to the woodland space.
“The new grant is meant to continue that work and hopefully be able to purchase things like benches,” Heath Town Coordinator Hilma Sumner said. “I believe there are some locations where it would be good to have something like split-rail fencing for safety.”
“It’s being done in a way that’s not really invasive on the wilderness or natural landscape. They’re trying to implement everything so that there’s as little impact as possible, but it will create pleasurable recreation [opportunities],” Sumner continued.
Charlemont received $20,000, its first grant from this program, that it plans on using to design and install educational and regulatory signs along the Deerfield River, according to Town Administrator Sarah Reynolds. She hopes to have signs in place before the next season of river use, as they will be installed to help river visitors scope out emergency exits and understand river conduct.
This is also Hawley’s first time receiving the grant. With its allotted $17,000, the town plans to acquire a tracked ATV for four-season rescue scenarios in places that may be otherwise inaccessible, according to Hawley Select Board member Hussain Hamdan.
“We thought of this in the context of the state forest having a lot of recreational activity going on,” Hamdan said. “A lot of areas where this off-road activity is happening are difficult to get to with traditional capabilities,” he said, so the ATV will be useful during extreme weather events or for rescue and safety purposes.
Also awarded grant funding were Adams, New Ashford, North Adams, Peru, Williamstown, LEVER Inc and New England Forestry Foundation.
The Mohawk Trail Woodlands Partnership has relied on several entities to function since its inception in 2013, including the Franklin Regional Council of Governments, Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, Franklin Land Trust and the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.
By Ella Adams