Securing the way of Wapack Trail

Among the first interstate hiking trails in the U.S., the Wapack Trail was established in 1923, with the generosity of landowners willing to put conservation and the region’s recreational access before their own property rights. Those walking on the trail have been inspired ever since.

The Wapack Trail is a 21-mile trek between Mount Watatic in Ashburnham, Mass., and North Pack Monadnock in Greenfield. In addition to winding its way over Temple Mountain, through Miller State Park and the Wapack National Wildlife Refuge, the trail goes over private property, which the trail’s founders — Marion Buck of New Ipswich and Frank Robbins of Rindge — were given permission to traverse. Now, it’s up to the nonprofit organization established in 1980 to maintain public access and the trail itself, Friends of the Wapack, to keep Buck and Robbins’ vision going.

The Friends are working, you might say, as liaisons between landowners and hikers, as well as future generations, to preserve not only history, but a legacy of goodwill. And perhaps the full impact of that gift can’t be felt until one is perched on the Wapack Range, surveying the beauty of the skyline route, the views of Mount Monadnock and other natural landmarks.

There’s plenty to celebrate this year as the Friends of the Wapack prepare programs for the public in the season ahead.

One thing members of the organization say they are watching is an application proposal for a wind farm on Kidder Mountain, which straddles the towns of New Ipswich and Temple. The wind turbines under the proposed plan would sit on private property and would be visible from the trail. The wind farm itself would cut through one of the trail’s subsidiary paths. The Friends aren’t taking a stand against the alternative energy plan, but are naturally curious about the review process.

On Monday, the state’s Site Evaluation Committee will hold a public hearing on an application from the wind developer — Timbertop Wind — on whether to take jurisdiction of the application for the 15-megawatt facility, which would consist of five turbines producing three megawatts each. There are some strong feelings about the application, with town officials in Temple and New Ipswich arguing to maintain local jurisdiction. And with so much at stake, it’s easy to see why.

Giant wind turbines stand as a symbol of the growing tensions between renewable energy advocates and conservationists, and it’s true that the battle ground may move toward the Wapack Trail.

But no matter what the future holds in terms of development of alternative energy facilities, Wapack Trail will stand as a testament to what we value. In a way it’s a symbol of who we are. Its rich wildlife and plant life tell the story of a long line of people who value the natural beauty of the landscape. And who recognize the symbiotic relationship between a people and their environment.

Wind farm or no wind farm, we can only hope that future generations of landowners along the Wapack Trail will see their way to carrying on the tradition of public access that’s been enjoyed for the last nine decades.

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