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Appalachian Trail 'community designation' could boost hiker interest in Lee

51 communities along the Appalachian Trail’s corridor have been recognized in the "A.T. Community" program. The trail travels 90 miles through western Massachusetts,  and the town of Lee  recently submitted an application to the program.
Courtesy Appalachian Trail Conservancy
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51 communities along the Appalachian Trail’s corridor have been recognized in the "A.T. Community" program. The trail travels 90 miles through western Massachusetts, and the town of Lee recently submitted an application to the program.

Ninety miles of the 2,000 mile long Appalachian Trail go though western Massachusetts, sweeping by the town of Lee. Town officials recently applied to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy for a community designation, say they said could be an economic and recreational boon.

"There's a good many factors where [the designation] is a benefit to the residents, the Appalachian Mountain Club and the hikers," said Lee resident Debbie Cronwell who is an avid hiker and recently helped submit the town's application.

A designation will let hikers know that Lee, which is four miles off the trail, is a place to stop for provisions.

"It would generate awareness to hikers that the town is available to them, that a lot of services are available," Cronwell said, "and it's a way to get [local] people involved with trail maintenance, or offer assistance [hikers] may need when they come in to town."

The designation would also put Lee on the map, Cronwell said, which is good for tourism and business.

Lee formed an Appalachian Trail Community Application Committee, which Cronwell chairs, to show the Conservancy the town merits the designation.

The work is ongoing, according to the town's application. This past summer hydration stations were set up for trail hikers during the extreme heat. Committee members acted as “ridge runners,” hiking the trail and reporting down trees. Members have also been providing trail information at local events in the past few months, and will continue to do so.

The trail designation does not come with funding, Cronwell said, but if the town receives the nod from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, Lee goes on their website. Once hikers know a trailhead is a destination with food or laundromats, Cronwell said that information also spreads by word of mouth.

Cronwell was out hiking when she explained how nearby Great Barrington, Dalton, Cheshire and North Adams already have a community designation.

Cronwell said the town of Lee does not expect to hear back from the conservancy until the end of next summer.

In addition to day hikers, about 3,000 people a year register to hike the entire Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine.

Jill Kaufman has been a reporter and host at NEPM since 2005. Before that she spent 10 years at WBUR in Boston, producing "The Connection" with Christopher Lydon and on "Morning Edition" reporting and hosting. She's also hosted NHPR's daily talk show "The Exhange" and was an editor at PRX's "The World."

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