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My Backyard

Another friend of mine, Joe Manning, has written two wonderful books about the people and heritage of North Adams. A few years ago he encouraged Northern Berkshire residents to become tourists in their own hometowns, to really look at and appreciate what’s around them.

The Greylock Reservation Project has been an effort to discover my own backyard. In fact, from my actual backyard in North Adams, I can see Mt. Williams, and from my bedroom window I can also see Mt. Prospect. Because I had hiked up Greylock a few times and was familiar with the Glen, I thought I knew the Reservation. I really didn’t. This project has opened my eyes.

Here are some of my favorite experiences:

• I set out to find a route from the Glen to the rock face — or “Indian Head” — high up on the eastern slope of Mt. Greylock. No official or unofficial paths go anywhere near it. So it took much studying of maps and photographs and five strenuous hikes to find my way to it. On my first exploratory hike I unexpectedly found myself at the power line corridor up the mountain. On another hike — so far up that the only sign of humanity was a broken kite and a burst balloon — I encountered a 40-foot wall of schist at least 150 feet long. It was so impressive and unexpected that it filled me with wonder. If you look at the mountain, it forms the right side of the triangle between the power lines and the lower left side of the rock face.

Another time I decided to approach the rock face from the north, and set off into the woods from the Thunderbolt Trail. Before long I heard a great rustling of leaves and snapping of twigs. Who in the world would be bushwhacking up here? I found out when a black animal the size of a St. Bernard dog shimmied down a tree about 30 feet away. I was just a little too concerned with my personal safety to take a photo, and the bear took off.

About an hour later I was working my way through extremely steep and rough terrain, still in search of the rock face. At one point I looked down and cringed to discover my boots a few inches away from the edge of a 20-foot cliff. I kept going for a few more minutes and was just about to give up when I saw a steep clearing through the trees. Alleluia! The “Indian Head” — at last!

• I was heading downhill on the AT, returning to my car after hiking the southernmost section of the trail in the Reservation. Suddenly, a dark little animal with yellow dirt on its head appeared on the trail, waddling his way up toward me. It was a porcupine. I stopped and took one photo and he kept right on coming. I took another and my film started to rewind automatically. This made him stop, pause a second, and then turn around and waddle slowly back down the path. I followed him slowly and he kept walking down the path a few feet in front of me. Finally, no doubt tired of being followed, he headed off the trail and into the woods.

• I found a woodchuck sticking his head out of a hole in a tree right next to the Roaring Brook Trail. I carefully sat on the ground just off the path to get a good shot. Young people hiked up the trail, talking. I stood and waited for them to go by, and then sat back down. Before I could get any more shots a couple around retirement age came flying down the trail, trekking poles churning in their hands, seemingly oblivious. I didn’t get up. When they were gone I finally managed to get some good shots of the woodchuck.

• Not every impressive waterfall in the Reservation is marked on the official map. I was hiking the Silver Fox Trail for the first time when I unexpectedly came upon a magnificent double falls on the southernmost tributary of Bassett Brook. It was the same story on the easternmost section of Old Adams Road. At a point where the trail makes a little zig from southwest to northwest, I looked down into a steep ravine to see another impressive falls, this one on the central tributary of Bassett Brook. I immediately headed down into it to take the best shots I could get.

• Sounds. The roar of a brook somewhere in the woods down below you. A creaking tree making a sound like voices. Thunder to the west when you’re an hour away from your car. The tinkling of water across a path after several days of rain. The vibrating growl of a dozen motorcycles climbing the mountain in the summer. The cry of a hawk riding the thermals around a mountain top.

• Looking northeast from Greylock, the top of Ragged Mountain beckons you from below. It’s called Ragged for a reason. It is forested and bumpy with a couple of impressive rock formations visible from above. From down in the Glen one can see a rock outcrop on the east side of Ragged which overlooks the valley. It is marked on the official map as Raven Rocks, but the map shows no path to it. Both the rock formations and Raven Rocks have beckoned to me for months.

I had climbed the short trail to the south summit for the first time in July but had not explored much further. I decided one late November day to bushwhack my way to the rock formations atop the mountain. After reaching the south summit, I made my way north on the mountain, discovering that it is wider than it looks from above. I found some interesting things, but I did not find these formations. It was getting late, around 3 p.m., and from here it would take me about two hours to get back to my car in the Glen.

As I was thinking about this and making my way back south, I came across a path with rocks piled on top of each other on both sides of it — sort of a gateway. I saw footprints in the light coating of snow. The path led down to a gully and then up on a massive rock formation. I had found Raven Rocks! I started snapping away with my camera, oblivious to the time. The view was incredible. And a mile away and 1,000 feet below at the end of Thiel Road was a little black dot: my car. And nothing but woods between me and it.

I debated: if I tried to make my way back to Ragged’s south summit rising above me to the west, at best it would take an hour and a half to get back to the car, and probably much longer. I wasn’t sure of the path. I would be stuck in the dark with just a tiny flashlight. So, with a thrill of letting it hang out a bit, I took a compass reading and started bushwhacking down the south slope of the mountain toward my car. I took more photos of the massive rock formation from the side, then made my way down very rugged terrain, my heart pounding, my glasses fogging. I had to do controlled slides down very steep slopes. I fell once, but wasn’t hurt. All the while I kept checking to make sure I was tending south.

The slope leveled off some and I eventually came to a dirt road. I left it and kept south when the road started turning west and uphill toward Greylock. After crossing several streamlets I came to the deep ravine of Hoxie Brook. I could see a wide trail on the other side. After scrambling down and up the ravine, I came out on the Bellows Pipe Trail, about five minutes from my car. There was still plenty of daylight, so I sat on a log and enjoyed an orange.

Road Work

Greylock’s paved road system, its 13.75-mile Historic Parkway, consists in part of Notch Road, 5.7 miles from the North Adams Reservation entrance up to its intersection near the summit with Rockwell Road, which runs 7.3 miles up from the Lanesborough entrance. Summit Road runs northeast from the intersection of Notch and Rockwell about three-quarters of a mile up to the top of Mt. Greylock.

The CCC completed the roads in 1939, and they include many spectacular scenic vistas, particularly to the west. Anyone who has been on these roads in recent years can tell you they need plenty of work. So during 2007 and 2008 the road system will be closed while workers complete a $21.3 million renovation project.

“The goal of the project is to rehabilitate the historic parkway system in a manner that balances safety, recreation, conservation and historic landscape preservation,” according to a DCR press release.

What this means for visitors is that the campground on Sperry Road, the War Memorial Tower, and Bascom Lodge will all be closed. The Visitors Center in Lanesborough will still be open, and all trails will be open to hikers. The plan is to reopen the roads in the spring of 2009.

So, you can still see the Reservation, even visit the summit of Greylock, but you’ll have to hike. Better for both you and the environment.

See you on the mountain!

Sources

• The Greylock State Reservation section of the Mass. Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) Website was the source of much of the information in this article about the natural history, human history, and natural highlights of the Reservation. Maps, hiking mileages, and other useful information can be found here. Address: www.mass.gov/dcr/parks/western/mgry.htm

• The section of the DCR Website on the history of the Division of State Parks and Recreation provided much of the information about how Greylock and its surroundings became a state Reservation. Address: http://www.mass.gov/dcr/sphistory.htm

• The Natural History of the Berkshires Website was established by Williams College Biology Professor Henry Art with the help of students to provide information to students enrolled in the Natural History of the Berkshires course, as well as to the general public. I drew on it heavily for information on the geology and topography of Greylock and the surrounding area and how it was formed. It was also the source of information on Greylock as the watershed for the Housatonic and Hoosic rivers. Address: http://drm.williams.edu/nhb/

• The Department of Earth Sciences, University of New Hampshire, Website was the source of the information about the grooves in the rock atop Greylock. Address: http://unh.edu/esci/massachusetts.html

• The section of the U.S. Forest Service Website on the Ecological Subregions of the United States dealing with the Green, Taconic, and Berkshire Mountains provided information about the Native American hunter-gatherer economy and past and current animal species in the area. Address: http://www.fs.fed.us/land/pubs/ecoregions/ch15.html

• Mahicans. Sources and Range of Cooper’s Indian Lore, a paper by Arthur C. Parker, 1954. Address: http://external.oneonta.edu/cooper/articles/nyhistory/1954nyhistory-parker.html Here is a Mohican Website: http://unr.edu/homepage/shubinsk/m-overview.html

• Two free DCR pamphlets — Bradley Farm Trail and Mount Greylock’s Hidden Treasures: A Driving Tour — provided the information about 19th Century farming on land now part of the Reservation.

• Nathaniel Hawthorne: Quote on seeing Greylock: Passages from the American Note-Books. Address: http://www.eldritchpress.org/nh/pfanb01.html#g3871

• Henry David Thoreau: His account of his hike up and stay on Greylock is in A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers. Available online through Google’s Project Gutenberg.

• Herman Melville: 1). The Arrowhead Website: http://www.mobydick.org/hm.html. 2). Text of The Piazza: http://www.bibliomania.com/0/5/36/814/18289/1/frameset.html

• John Bascom: 1). John Bascom entry in Wikipedia. 2). Wisconsin Electronic Reader, Bascom section from a 1918 book by Charles Rounds: Wisconsin Authors and Their Works. Address: www.library.wisc.edu/etext/wireader/WER0748.html. 3). Description of Bascom’s character: Perspectives: A Williams Anthology, Frederick Rudolph, editor, 1983, Williams College, Williamstown, Mass. 4). About Bascom and coeducation at Williams: Mark Hopkins and the Log, Frederick Rudolph. Yale University Press, 1956. Pg. 231.

• Two recently installed plaques on the summit — one on Bascom Lodge and one outside the Memorial Tower — provided much of the information about these structures used here.

• Three more free DCR pamphlets about Greylock have been most helpful: Wildflowers of Greylock: Sighting List; Sub-Alpine Ecology; and Birds of Greylock: Sighting List.

• Latest Glen Plan: It’s Official: Sweep of pens puts Adams in charge of Glen, by Ryan Hutton, North Adams Transcript, Dec. 12, 2006, pp. 1 & 8.

• Historic Parkway renovation project: DCR Press Release, Nov. 1, 2007.

• Miscellaneous: 1). Fitch and Dwight climb Greylock: Wikipedia entry for Mt. Greylock. 2). CCC built pond on Greylock: Hikes & Walks in the Berkshire Hills, by Lauren R. Stevens, 1990, Berkshire House Publishers, Stockbridge, Mass.

AMDG

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Looking down the powerline corridor toward Gould Farm, August 23, 2006.

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At the rock face on the eastern side of Mt. Greylock. I took this from the edge of the woods about halfway up the face, looking south, September 30, 2006.

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Porcupine walks up the Appalachian Trail, June 25, 2006.

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Woodchuck by the Roaring Brook Trail, October 7, 2006.

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Falls by the Silver Fox Trail, September 4, 2006.

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Ragged Mountain, seen from the summit of Mt. Greylock, July 8, 2006.

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The view southeast from Raven Rocks on the eastern side of Ragged Mountain, with no snow in the valley. Downtown Adams can be seen to the upper left. My car is parked beyond the point of the little key-shaped spot at the extreme right-center of the picture. November 20, 2006.

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Severe deterioration of the shoulder of Notch Road on Mt. Fitch. This was taken toward the northwest, July 6, 2006.

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A Red Eft found near the Sperry Road campground, July 29, 2006.

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Looking west from the intersection of Rockwell and Sperry Roads during a mid-afternoon summer rainstorm, June 29, 2006.
 
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Construction equipment and materials at the intersection of Rockwell and Sperry Roads. This view is looking northeast, toward the head of the CCC Dynamite trail, October 12, 2007.