The Pride of Ashuwillticook:
From Couch Potato to Trail Steward
By Steve Tgettis
f asked to name a hero, most of us will come up with someone famous, someone daring, someone brave. When I moved to the Berkshires in western Massachusetts several years ago, I met a man I'd call a hero in the truest sense of the word—that is, someone to admire and emulate.
I first met Ray Fisher while riding my bike toward Adams, Mass., on the 11-mile Ashuwillticook Rail Trail. The pathway, which takes its name from a Native American word meaning "the pleasant river between the hills," carves through Hoosic River Valley. The Pittsfield and North Adams Railroad developed this corridor back in 1845. It's an incredibly peaceful and scenic route.
As I approached Adams on the trail, I saw an older man with a slight build. He was on the side of the trail with an old Wal-Mart Huffy bicycle. At first I assumed he was collecting returnable cans and bottles to make a few bucks. Then I saw that his makeshift bag bulged with all sorts of trash. Fisher was simply out on one of his many trips cleaning up the trail.
Over the next several months, I got to know Fisher and his work. I learned he had formerly been a chain smoker and—by his own account—a "couch potato." Even more surprising, he had originally opposed the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail. The corridor runs right by his property, and Fisher didn't want "tourists" parading past and invading his privacy. But soon after the trail opened, he began walking it regularly and realized how much he enjoyed being outside. Before long, he bought a bike and started riding the trail.
Then came the biggest change of his life: Fisher quit smoking after 45 years. He had previously tried every technique available, including hypnotism, to kick the habit. But using the trail while smoking was such a conflict that one of the activities had to go. So he doubled up on the nicotine patches and determination, and he's been smoke-free ever since.
For Fisher, the next step was to give back, to help clean up the trail that had grown so central to his life. About seven years ago—a year after the trail opened—he started picking up litter on the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail right around his property. Expanding his scope, he adopted a three-mile section and now polices it with the fervor of someone who actually owns the land. He began his trail stewardship on an 18-speed bike, which became a one-speed after his shifter cable broke. That didn't faze him a bit. Trash? Fisher picks it up. Weeds? He installed a cart on his bike and drags around a string trimmer. Vandalism? He has reinstalled markers that were destroyed by vandals. All without being asked or paid.
Ray Fisher, who just turned 70, is out on the Ashuwillticook whenever the weather is good, cleaning once, sometimes twice, a day. He has never considered himself a hero or asked to be interviewed. Yet I encourage everyone to say a quick hello and thank-you to all the "Rays" out there who have adopted parts of trails.
While riding the Ashuwillticook one day recently, I saw something on the trail about 30 yards ahead. It was a facial tissue someone had dropped. Normally I would have gone right by. Not this time. I came to a stop and whispered as I picked up the scrap, "This one is for you, Ray."