Runners climb Mount Tom to help with conservation

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EASTHAMPTON – As the sun rose above the tree line at Millside Park in Easthampton on Saturday, runners of all ages and experiences began to congregate on the green, stretching and hydrating as they waited to participate at the inaugural Mount Tom Trail run to support conservation efforts in Easthampton and Holyoke.

The event was a joint effort between the Kestrel Land Trust, Beast Coast Trail Running LLC, and New City Brewery. Proceeds from the race will go to the Land Trust’s Mount Tom Fund to support its conservation work on and around the mountain.

One hundred and ninety-three runners participated in Saturday’s race. Many raced solo, while others raced in teams of two, with each member performing a relay section of the rugged 12-mile course.

Race director Amy Rusiecki of Beast Coast Trail Running designed the course and said she hopes the race will become an annual fundraising event.

“Considering the number of people registered, I hope this is the start of a great tradition,” said Rusiecki.

Rusiecki has coordinated dozens of popular New England races, including the Seven Sisters Trail Race on the Mount Holyoke Range and the Vermont 100 Endurance Race.

She said Beast Coast Trail Races always partners with a local nonprofit that works to conserve land or promote outdoor athletics.

Just before the 8:30 a.m. start time, riders lined up on the bike path adjacent to New City Brewing.

“I am delighted to see so many of you here and so many from outside the region,” said Rusiecki. “Remember to help each other – remember, we are all in the same boat.”

Rusiecki also read a statement acknowledging the 400 years of colonization in the area. She said in part that “the land we run on today is the unceded homeland of the Pocumtuc Nation and the Norwottuck community. We begin with gratitude for the waters and surrounding lands. We recognize these lands as important relationships with which we are all connected and upon which we depend for sustaining life and well-being.

After the countdown, the runners took off with approximately 1.5 miles of road ahead before heading to the mountain trails.

The runners’ families and friends mingled and chatted at the park while waiting for the runners to return.

Just before 10 a.m., the first male rider, Tim Ritchie of Northampton, crossed the finish line.

“It was tough, with rocky terrain but a great course with epic views,” said Ritchie. “This is such a great time of year to get out on these wonderful West Mace trails.”

Close behind Ritchie and finishing second was Shaun Donegan from Saratoga, NY

“What a magnificent course! He exclaimed, catching his breath.

After finishing the race, Donegan said he should immediately return home to Saratoga and take over childcare duties.

“My wife is a runner and we take turns running and looking after the kids. It was my turn, “he said.

The first woman to complete the race was Isabel Lane, originally from Sweden but now living and working in Boston and doing cancer research at Mass General Hospital.

“I really enjoyed it!” she said. “There were some really nice hills, some good descents and it was a very passable trail.”

Lane said it was a tough end for her as she was being run for her money by runner-up Abby Mahoney of Holyoke, second.

“I run the mountain all the time,” said Mahoney. “These trails are my home.”

Todd Roberts of Easthampton and Kristen Reyzer of Maynard took first place in the tag team division, being part of the “Trail and Error” squad.

After the party

Everyone who crossed the finish line received a pint from New City Brewery that contained tickets for food and drink as well as a Kestrel sticker. The runners then gathered at the New City Brewery to enjoy their lunch.

“It’s better than any medal,” Donegan said.

Participants came from all over Massachusetts and several other northeastern states.

Some, like Shannon Pinkowski from Albany, NY, were serious runners who had experience in marathons, road races, and trail races.

Pinkowski praised the race, saying the course was beautifully marked, the water points were fully equipped and the terrain was good and not full of holes.

“Everyone here was so friendly, and at the water points there were people cheering, jumping, ringing bells – it was amazing,” she said. “I would definitely come back to do it, and I would give him some money as well.”

Others, like Worthington’s Tanya Rapinchuk, were there for camaraderie and fun.

“I love to run and I love supporting Amy and Beast Coast Trail Running,” said Rapinchuk, who was dressed in a hot dog costume.

“I like to take out costumes for the races,” she said. “I’m not here to crush it, I’m here to have fun.”

The Mount Tom race had been in the works since 2019, when runner Leah Jacobson-Hardy, who was a bartender at the New City Brewery and volunteering for the Kestrel Land Trust, approached Rusiecki with the idea.

“I thought it was a good idea to put all my favorite things together and do something right,” Jacobson-Hardy said.

Originally scheduled for 2020, the event had to be canceled due to COVID 19.

“Kestrel has been great,” said Jacobson-Hardy. “They did the fundraising and the marketing which was a big help in making the race a success.”

Kari Blood, director of community engagement at the Kestrel Land Trust, said the organization is delighted to partner with Rusiecki and that funding for the event will really help advance Kestrel’s work in the region. Easthampton and Holyoke.

Many runners have come to support the Kestrel Land Trust and the work they do on Mount Tom.

Ashfield sage Franetovich said she hopes to finish the race by four o’clock or at least before the 5 p.m. deadline.

“I wanted to go out and support the Kestrel Land Trust and spend some time in the woods,” she said. “Mount Tom is a great resource and a fantastic mountain with a lot of history, great trails and easily accessible.”

Franetovich said she has been following Kestrel for several years and believes that “preserving natural areas like this is such an important job”.

Kestrel Land Trust is a non-profit organization in Amherst that conserves and cares for the forests, farms and waterways of the Pioneer Valley. Over the past 50 years, the organization has helped conserve more than 27,000 acres of wildland, woodlands, farmland and wetlands in western Massachusetts.

The Kestrel’s Mount Tom Fund was established through a bequest from the late Katherine “Kay” Burnett, also known as the “Trail Lady,” in whose honor the KB Trail on Mount Tom was named. Burnett was a skilled trail builder who helped establish miles of trails and build many bridges across the mountain.

This funding helped the organization, in conjunction with the City of Easthampton, purchase 23 acres and expand public access to Mount Tom.

The new North Trailhead Park is Easthampton’s first secure public access to the State Reserve and New England Scenic Trail at the north end of the mountain. It will be managed as a single conservation and recreation area by Kestrel and the City of Easthampton.

The Mount Tom Trail Race will also support Kestrel’s partnership with the Town of Holyoke to conserve and restore the nearby Anniversary Hill Park, which is an extension of the same geological feature underlying Mount Tom.

Audra McGee of Easthampton is a regular on the Mount Tom trails.

“I see deer, red-tailed hawks, vultures, sometimes peregrines and coyotes maybe twice a year,” she said. “I think it’s important to keep as much land as possible here.

Will Shelton, general manager of New City Brewery, said the race was a big success.

“For a first race, it’s way beyond anything I could imagine,” he said. “Next year we may have to rent the park to accommodate more people. ”


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