Runners scale Mount Tom to aid conservation

  • Mount Tom Trail Race participant Cooper Mueller bows to the crowd once Trail Runner Amy Rusiecki announced that he was running on his twenty-first birthday, Saturday morning at Millside Park in Easthampton. Sabato Visconti—Copyright.2021

  • Participants of the inaugural Mount Tom Trail Race take off for the start of the 12-mile race Saturday morning in Easthampton. Sabato Visconti—Copyright.2021

  • Runners in the Mount Tom Trail Race make their way toward the state reservation as part of a 12-mile track, Saturday in Easthampton. FOR THE GAZETTE/Sabato Visconti

  • Mount Tom Trail Race winner Isabel Lane, right, and runner-up “€œtrail queen€” Abby Mahoney pose with their awards during the race after-party, Saturday at the New City Brewery in Easthampton. FOR THE GAZETTE/Sabato Visconti

  • Mount Tom Trail Race winner Timothy Ritchie, runner-up Shaun Donegan, and second-runner up “trail king” Francis Sternberg pose with their awards Saturday at the New City Brewery in Easthampton. FOR THE GAZETTE/Sabato Visconti

  • Tanya Rapinchuk of Worthington awaits the start of the Mount Tom Trail Race dressed as a giant hot dog, Saturday morning, at Millside park in Easthampton. FOR THE GAZETTE/Sabato Visconti

For the Gazette
Published: 10/24/2021 7:46:42 PM

EASTHAMPTON — As the sun rose over the tree line at Millside Park in Easthampton on Saturday, runners of all ages and experience began to congregate on the green, stretching and hydrating as they waited to participate in the Inaugural Mount Tom Trail Race to Support Conservation Efforts in Easthampton & Holyoke.

The event was a joint effort among the Kestrel Land Trust, Beast Coast Trail Running LLC and the 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 ninety-three runners competed in Saturday’s race. Many ran solo, while others ran in teams of two, each member running a relay section of the rugged 12-mile course.

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

“Given how many people signed up, I hope that this is the start of a great tradition,” Rusiecki said.

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 that Beast Coast Trail Races always partners with a local nonprofit that either works to preserve land or promote outdoor athletics.

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

“I am stoked to see so many of you here and so many from out of the area,” Rusiecki said. “Don’t forget to help each other out there — remember, we are all in this together.”

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

After the countdown, the runners took off with about 1.5 miles of roadway to traverse before getting to the mountain trails.

Families and friends of the runners mingled and chatted at the park as they waited for the runners to return.

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

“It was tough, with some rocky terrain but a great course with epic views,” Ritchie said. “It’s such a great time of the year to be out on these beautiful western Mass trails.”

Closely behind Ritchie and finishing second was Shaun Donegan of Saratoga, N.Y.

“What a gorgeous course!” he exclaimed while catching his breath.

After finishing the race, Donegan said that he would have to immediately return home to Saratoga and take over child-care duties.

“My wife is a runner and we take turns running and doing child care. This 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 doing cancer research at Mass General Hospital.

“I really enjoyed that!” she said. “There were really nice rolling hills, good downhills and it was a very runnable trail.”

Lane said it was a tough finish for her as she was being given a run for her money by second-place runner Abby Mahoney of Holyoke.

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

Coming in first place for the team division was Todd Roberts of Easthampton and Kristen Reyzer of Maynard, running as team “Trail and Error.”


All those who crossed the finish line were handed a pint cup from New City Brewery which contained tickets for food and a beverage along with a Kestrel sticker. Runners then gathered at the New City Brewery to enjoy their lunch.

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

The participants came from all over Massachusetts and several other states in the Northeast.

Some, like Shannon Pinkowski of Albany, N.Y., were serious runners who had experience competing in marathons, road races and trail races.

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

“Everyone here was so friendly, and at the water stops there were people cheering, jumping, ringing bells — it was amazing,” she said. “I would definitely come back to do this, and I would donate money to it as well.”

Others, like Tanya Rapinchuk of Worthington, were there for the camaraderie and fun.

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

“I like to break out costumes for 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 had been bartending at the New City Brewery and volunteering with the Kestrel Land Trust, approached Rusiecki with the idea.

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

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

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

Kari Blood, community engagement director at the Kestrel Land Trust, said the organization was excited to partner with Rusiecki and that funding from the event will really help to advance Kestrel’s work in the Easthampton and Holyoke area.

Many runners came out to support the Kestrel Land Trust and the work that they do on Mount Tom.

Sage Franetovich of Ashfield said she hoped to finish the race by four hours or at least before the cutoff time at 5 p.m.

“I wanted to get out and support 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, excellent trails, and it is easily accessed.”

Franetovich said she has followed Kestrel for several years and feels that “preserving natural areas like this is such important work.”

Kestrel Land Trust is a nonprofit in Amherst that conserves and cares for forests, farms, and riverways in the Pioneer Valley. In the last 50 years, the organization has helped to conserve over 27,000 acres of wildlands, woodlands, farmlands and wetlands throughout western Massachusetts.

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

This funding helped the organization, together with the city of Easthampton, to 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 Reservation and the New England Scenic Trail on the northern 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 city of Holyoke to conserve and restore 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 trails on Mount Tom.

“I see deer, red-tail hawks, vultures, sometimes peregrine falcons, and coyotes maybe twice a year,” she said. “I think that it’s important to conserve as much land here as we can.”

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

“For a first-time race this is way beyond anything I ever imagined,” he said. “Next year we may have to rent the park to accommodate more people.”


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