My Turn: Mohawk Trail Woodland Partnership will benefit region

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

The proposed Massachusetts legislation to establish the Mohawk Trail Woodland Partnership is the first step in creating a huge opportunity for environmental conservation and economic development in the 21 towns of Western Franklin County in the Northern Berkshires.

Representatives from 20 towns and regional organizations have worked for three years with the assistance of the Franklin Regional Council of Governments and Berkshire Regional Planning Commission to fashion a plan for the region and draft the legislation for the Partnership.

Far from threatening the region as some would contend, it is a concerted effort among a diverse set of interest groups to build consensus and come up with conservation and development programs to enhance the environment, preserve our rural character, protect public health, and improve the economy for the residents in the Mohawk Trail region.

If the Partnership’s plans come to fruition, significant resources could be brought to bear and benefit the region to help this locally grown effort with economic development and environment conservation. It would enable the region to:

• Establish a new organization to manage the ongoing Partnership program;

• Build a Forest Center, where locals and visitors could learn about the ecological services that forests provide and the potential impacts of climate change and invasive species;

• Support local land preservation and environmental conservation efforts;

• Assist farmers and large-lot landowners to improve their woodlands;

• Bring annual grants to participating towns to support municipal services or operations related to the purposes of the Partnership; and,

• Augment the outdoor recreation industry and natural resource-based tourism economy through better marketing of the Mohawk Trail region.

In addition to these tangible benefits, the Mohawk Trail Woodland Partnership will provide a mechanism for residents, organizations, businesses and communities to work cooperatively on economic development and environmental conservation issues and to leverage new funding to benefit the region far into the future.

Whit Sanford serves on the Mohawk Trail Woodland Partnership Advisory Committee and the Board of the Greater Shelburne Falls Area Business Association. She co-directed the Connecticut River Watershed Council (now, Connecticut River Conservancy). She has been instrumental in forming many public-private partnerships — the “Source to Sea Cleanup,” Silvio O. Conte National Fish & Wildlife Refuge, and American Heritage River designation for the Connecticut River