Ecologists have compared the transition in forest vegetation zones from the base to the summit of Mt. Greylock to walking
from Pennsylvania to northern Maine in one day. William Brewster, a 19th Century ornithologist, described the mountain as
“a Canadian island rising from an Alleghenian sea.”
A northern hardwood forest is found on most lower slopes in the Reservation. This includes oak, beech, birches, cherry,
ash, and maples. At about 2,600 feet in elevation this transitions into the boreal or spruce-fir forest dominated by Red Spruce
and Balsam Fir, joined by Mountain Ash and Yellow Birch. As I learned on a guided hike this summer, Mountain Ash is actually
more of a shrub than a tree.
A treat easily within reach on the Deer Hill Trail are old-growth trees on the west slope of Greylock. These include species
of fir, spruce, and ash. Trail guides told me the trees were not harvested from this spot years ago because it was so inaccessible.
Some of these trees are more than 150 years old and huge compared with other trees in the Reservation.
With this project, for the first time in my life I actually looked at wildflowers in the woods. In fact, I concentrated
on them much more than on trees, perhaps because they are much easier to photograph effectively. Once the film was developed,
I would compare my wildflower photos with photos I found on the Internet, trying to identify them. A Wildflowers of Greylock
sighting list from the DCR, divided into months the flowers appear, helped me know what I was looking for. By the end of fall
I had photographed and identified 27 flowers on the list, with many more wildflower photos yet to ID.
Almost 100 species of birds — including thrushes, sparrows, warblers, game birds, owls, and ravens — call the
Reservation home at least part of the year. I’ve seen many hawks. They like to ride the thermals in such places as the
northern summit of Mt. Prospect or above the rock face on the eastern side of Mt. Greylock. The DCR offers a helpful “Birds
of Greylock” sighting list.
I’ve managed to get a few good photos of smaller birds, but the larger game birds move too fast. A wild turkey darted
across the path in front of me on the Northrup Trail. No photo. Birds have exploded from the underbrush unseen as I’ve
passed by on a trail, giving me a start. I saw what looked like a pheasant on the top of Mt. Prospect, but I didn’t
have my camera with me that day. It’s much the same story with hawks.
Though the forests of Greylock survived human exploitation, not all of the species of animals here did. Encroaching settlement
and deforestation over the years led to the permanent elimination of the timber wolf, mountain lion, and elk from Western
Massachusetts and Southern Vermont. Moose, once all but eliminated, have made a comeback, however.
Animals found on the Reservation include white-tailed deer, black bear, bobcat, coyote, red and gray fox, fisher, porcupine,
beaver, raccoon, snowshoe hare, woodchuck, red and gray squirrel.
MassWildlife maintains two areas here as meadows — wisely, in my opinion. This habitat restoration program is in
effect on parts of Jones Nose and Haley Farm, two areas which had been farm meadows and then became somewhat reforested. The
program is an effort to improve biodiversity of animal species and control exotic invasive plants.
The state cut trees and churned up the land to make the meadows, so the program was controversial. But from my perspective
this program is a success. The wildflowers at both sites are amazing. The photo of the Deptfort Pinks was taken at Jones Nose.
Birds seem to thrive there. I took the butterfly photo at the Haley Farm site. Walking around this meadow I found an amazing
variety of plants. The clearings at both sites also allow for some fantastic views. And since probably well over 90 percent
of the Reservation is forested, re-creating some meadow habitat makes sense.
The official Reservation map, which was easy to find around the park this summer, shows 39 named and unnamed trails totaling
70.8 miles by my reckoning. The best known is the Appalachian Trail (AT), which runs for 12 miles in the Reservation. It starts
at Pattison Road in North Adams, runs over the summit of Greylock, then heads south to Outlook Avenue in Cheshire.
Here’s one of my favorite hikes. Start from Pattison Road up Mt. Prospect to the northern summit and the spectacular
lookout to the west. Instead of heading east on the AT, however, head south from this clearing, down the Mt. Prospect Trail.
All along this mile-long, level stretch you can see where the mountain drops off to your left and to your right. This easy
trail is all the more enjoyable because it seems your rightful reward for climbing Mt. Prospect.
To your left you can see Greylock getting closer and closer through the trees as you move south. After you climb just a bit
and reach a pile of rocks marking the southern summit, you begin a steep descent into the Hopper. Straight ahead and up you
might see the gleam of a vehicle parked on Stony Ledge. Before descending much more, you’ll come to another lookout
to the west, this one overlooking the fields and outbuildings of Haley Farm surrounding the Hopper trails parking area. You
can turn around here. However, if you’re ambitious and it’s early, you can hike down to the Money Brook Trail
and head north on it back to the AT. This makes for an eight-mile round trip back to Pattison Road.
Each year, I’ve read, the Reservation gets the astonishing total of about 300,000 visitors. Relatively few of these
people seem to hike in the southern, level part of the park, the three miles between the Visitors Center and Rounds Rock.
It’s all about the mountains, I guess. I must have hiked for at least 15 hours over several days in this part of the
Reservation during the project and never ran into another hiker. People are missing out because this is beautiful terrain
and a real joy to hike.
Also in the south, and probably the most inaccessible trail in the entire park, is the unnamed trail that runs in a V at the
south end of Sugarloaf Mountain between Bauer and Ingraham Roads, both dirt. A week before the roads in the park closed on
November 1, I decided to drive up and over to get this one out of the way. As has always been the case since I started this
project, I was glad I made the effort. I found a pleasant trail that revealed how easy and inviting a future jaunt up the
spine to the top of Sugarloaf would be.
One of the features in the south that I’ve particularly learned from and enjoyed is the Bradley Farm Trail. This interpretive
trail starts at the parking lot of the Visitors Center in Lanesborough. A circle close to two miles long, it has 13 stations,
each explained in a guide available at the trailhead. You learn what quartzite embedded in schist looks like; how to identify
Sugar Maple, Black Cherry, and White Ash; tell the difference between an eastern hardwood forest and an eastern hemlock forest;
learn about evergreen mosses that prevent erosion; see what a lightning strike does to a tree; learn about the CCCs; and examine
a patch of trees numbered and inventoried for long-term study.
No description of the Mount Greylock State Reservation would be complete without mentioning Greylock Glen, at the eastern
foot of Mt. Greylock in Adams. It has two ponds, a gazebo, and a neatly kept lawn at its heart. Many important trails begin
around the Glen, including the Cheshire Harbor Trail, the Gould Trail, and the Thunderbolt, all of which lead up the mountain.
There’s also a wildly ad hoc sort of atmosphere to the Glen not found elsewhere in the Reservation. Trails not found
on the park map abound, some completely unmarked. Others have special little signs with red reflector tape put up by snowmobilers.
Ancient stone walls seem to head in every direction. Right off Gould Road there are concrete bridge footings and no bridge.
Other places you find trash unthinkable elsewhere in the park. For instance, I recently found a box spring and a handleless
lawn mower in the brush by the lower West Mountain Road parking lot near the Gould Trail. Whoever recently discarded several
tires there didn’t even try to hide them.
The Glen is seen as a particularly important part of Adams, and efforts to develop it separately from the Reservation have
been ongoing for close to 60 years. When I would listen to the radio before going to elementary school in the 1960s, I heard
about efforts to develop the Glen. When I came back as a reporter and editor in the 1990s, I spent several years covering
the unsuccessful effort to create something there called Greylock Center.
My friend John Hitchcock, the area’s top ski and outdoors writer, showed me back then the ruins of a golf course and
what was once an operating ski area in the Glen. One stanchion, pictured here, I call “The Cross of Crucified Hopes.”
Nearby one can find solitary concrete walls and little patches of steel rebar sticking up out of the ground like weeds. This
is what’s left of a resort project aborted decades ago, and it’s steadily turning into wetlands.
But as Emily Dickinson wrote, “Hope is the thing with feathers/that perches in the soul.” Sort of like a bird
on a tree branch in the Glen. The latest bird is a $44 million plan for hiking and ski trails, a campground, an environmental
education center, amphitheater, and 150-room lodge.
Greylock Reservation Project Home
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IV. On the Reservation
VI. My Backyard/Road Work/Sources