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The Yankee Express

Bay State Trail Riders Association continues to delight equestrians and others

Bay State Trail Riders Association volunteers do a trail work project in Douglas State Forest. (Submitted)

By Christine Galeone
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, when Becky Kalagher would go horseback riding on a Massachusetts trail, she wouldn’t generally see many other people. But in 2020, things changed.
“Trails became a haven for people during the pandemic,” Kalagher said, adding, “My ‘hobby,’ while riding last year, was to count how many people I encountered out on the trails. One afternoon, on an hour-and-a-half ride, I counted over 60 people. That was mind boggling to me, and it was the same thing all over the place.”
That realization of how vital trails are to her fellow equestrians and other outdoor enthusiasts was encouraging to Kalagher, who is the president of the Bay State Trail Riders Association.  Although the pandemic forced the nonprofit to postpone several equestrian events – including group rides and campouts – and volunteer trail work sessions last year, BSTRA has continued to thrive. It has remained dedicated to preserving and maintaining equestrian trails throughout the state.   
Founded in 1973 and based in Douglas, BSTRA is run by hundreds of volunteers. It creates, improves and restores Massachusetts trails that are open to equestrians and are also used by hikers, mountain bikers, dog walkers, cross-country skiers and other outdoor enthusiasts. Since 1989, it has put more than $630,000 into the trail projects it has completed. 
Despite the pandemic, BSTRA was able to accomplish a significant amount of volunteer work cleaning and clearing equestrian and equestrian-friendly multi-use trails during 2020. Along with Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) employees, the nonprofit also made major safety improvements to the Eagle Scout Bridge, which is located on a trail in Douglas State Forest. It made similar improvements to the Sweet William Bridge on the Sweet William Farm Conservation property in Upton.   
But Kalagher is especially excited about a recent milestone achievement. Even though, in the past, BSTRA has donated money to fundraising campaigns to purchase property that would protect or establish a trail connection or expand a system of trails, it hadn’t purchased land until now. It recently bought 17 acres of land that connects the Southern New England Trunkline Trail to a 131-acre parcel of Town of Douglas-owned land.  
“Short term plans for the property will be to clean up the old farm dump and establish a connector trail; long term plans are to turn the property over to Metacomet Land Trust to ensure its protection in perpetuity,” Kalagher explained. She added, “It accomplishes our goal of preserving land that is open for horseback riding, walking and mountain biking.”
Kalagher envisions a bright future for the nonprofit. She’s looking forward to the creation of a BSTRA trails committee that will work with towns, land trusts and other organizations to help the nonprofit discover new trail projects to work on. 
In the meantime, Kalagher is happy to see so many enthusiastic horseback riders and volunteers helping BSTRA with its priority to keep trails open for equestrian use. “This year, the biggest thing I have heard from our volunteer workers and attendees on our rides is that it’s just great to be normal again,” she shared. “My hope is that the rediscovery of the great outdoors via our trail system will continue and that people will get involved with the stewardship of our trail systems.”
More information about volunteering for the nonprofit or becoming a member is available on the BSTRA website, www.bstra.org. If you would like to suggest a Blackstone Valley nonprofit or initiative for this series, please contact Christine at [email protected]