Ilana Steinhauer at the Great Barrington Land Conservancy's 2019 Run for the Hills fundraising race. Photo: E. Ward
Great Barrington — It was 2015 when Ilana Steinhauer first laced up her running shoes and ran through the hills of Berkshire County. As the mother of 2-year-old twins at the time, Steinhauer was ready to carve out time for herself while juggling the demands of being a full-time working mother. She didn’t need to look very far to find a small group of like-minded twin moms keen on joining her to get active and healthy together. What began as a small cohort of four has expanded to include upward of eight women, all of whom plan to participate in the 10th annual Run for the Hills fundraiser, in support of the Great Barrington Land Conservancy, which will be conducted virtually this year through Friday, Oct. 2.
“[This year’s race] is a great opportunity to accumulate distance or challenge yourself [to achieve] your best time,” said Jane Angelini, board member of the GBLC. Runners and walkers can either follow the original 5K race route or create their own; logging hours and times with Berkshire Running Center will give participants the chance to win prizes — awarded to runners under age 18, adults, and for family groups — for fastest times and longest distances. Winners will be announced Sunday, Oct. 4, at a socially distanced ceremony. Individuals, teams and families are encouraged to take advantage of this event as a way to spend time safely together outdoors and to reach personal health goals. Entry fees are $20 for individuals and $30 per family.
All proceeds go toward helping the small town land conservancy uphold its big mission: To preserve natural spaces, agricultural land and wildlife habitats within Great Barrington as well as to enhance recreational opportunities for residents and visitors through the creation of trails, walking paths and special programs. “This is our single fundraiser, outside of those donors who generously support us,” Angelini said, and funds are being directed toward various GBLC projects, including the Lake Mansfield Conservation Forest Trails, Pfeiffer Arboretum and Trails, and the Threemile Hill Trail that links Fountain Pond State Park with Berkshire South Regional Community Center.
In downtown Great Barrington, the GBLC has worked tirelessly to create and maintain the Housatonic River Walk (now a National Recreational Trail), which follows the west bank of the Housatonic River between Cottage Street and Bridge Street; the trail’s two sections are linked by Dresser Avenue and River Street. The upstream section extends from the River Walk bulletin board at 195 Main St. to the William Stanley Overlook. The trail exits at the stairs to the St. Peter’s Church parking lot on Dresser Avenue. The downstream section of the trail begins adjacent to the Berkshire Corporation parking lot on River Street, passes the W.E.B. Du Bois River Park, and ends at Bridge Street.
For Angelini, who grew up in the Berkshires before spending 40 years in Pittsburgh, this year’s race is particularly auspicious. “I’m new on the board, this is only my second race, and of course only the first virtual race we’ve ever done [so we are] finding our way,” she said. Angelini brought decades of experience with land conservancy in western Pennsylvania with her to the Berkshires when she returned three years ago. One of the first things she did was to seek out the GBLC, where she met Christine Ward, who recruited Angelini for the board; she is now treasurer and co-coordinator of the annual fundraiser. More than ever, the current global pandemic has emphasized the importance of preserving green spaces for the community to enjoy, evident throughout the Berkshires to passersby. “You just see cars parked everywhere, in front of any sort of green space,” said Angelini, adding, “there are more people on the trail [than ever], despite the pandemic.” On any given day, stewards of the land are gifts to the community. “You have to go after the invasive plants, keep the trails accessible, keep clearing and cutting,” Angelini pointed out, adding that GBLC has “always worked closely with Greenagers” in doing so.
To complement the ongoing virtual race, Wednesday, Sept. 30, will mark the official opening of the Riverfront Trail (following a dedication ceremony at 3 p.m.) — a continuation of the River Walk — that will afford visitors access to parts of the Housatonic that have been inaccessible for decades, including the chance to see the majestic Searles Castle (currently the John Dewey Academy) from a new perspective. The walk commences at Bridge Street, where the pathway follows the river edge, enters the forested areas behind the Castle, emerges across the open field and then re-enters woodlands before emerging at Olympian Meadows. The trail, designed and built by Peter S. Jensen and Associates, provides a level walking path of crushed stone, perfect for baby strollers and wheelchairs alike. Angelini calls this addition “a great boon to the people of Great Barrington … to walk out their doors and hit the trail.” The Riverfront Trail will be open year-round from dawn to dusk, and features a wooden footbridge, reconstructed stone drainage culverts, split rail fencing and seating benches. Another section of the trail, along the river’s edge at Olympian Meadows, will be constructed this spring by Sean Van Deusen, the town superintendent of public works.
“It’s just amazing, what they have done and what they continue to do,” Angelini said of the GBLC, which celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2017 — and the timeline of which (unofficially) dates back to 1988 when 16 volunteers removed 15 tons of debris from the riverbank during the Denny Alsop Riverbank Clean-up (and commenced creation of the Housatonic River Walk). “We love supporting the cause,” Steinhauer said, adding, “it’s secondary to us — but not really — we choose to continue to [participate in the race] because we really believe in the GBLC mission.” Plus, it’s now tradition for Steinhauer and friends who “run together and just find time to be moms together, to connect and be healthy.”
Steinhauer and friends will follow the original race route — beginning at Simon’s Rock and traversing portions of Hurlburt and Seekonk Roads — which she finds, “one of the most beautiful routes in the Berkshires.” Participants are encouraged to Run for the Hills anytime between now and Friday, Oct. 2 — when online registration closes — to ensure proper social distancing during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. For more information or to register to Run for the Hills, visit gbland.org.