The sun is peeking out from behind the clouds, the wind is getting warmer, birds are chirping their springtime songs! If you don’t feel the overwhelming urge to get up and walk outside, or even if you do, we’re here to give you a peek at what’s out there. Let me tell you, it’s something quite beautiful.
One of the perks of living out in the middle of nowhere is just how breathtaking the land around us is. It’s not so bad, to drive half an hour, if most of that drive is along the banks of clear rivers, across verdant fields, through tall groves, and provides a quick view across the valley from the tops of hills and hidden vistas.
Well, we aren’t the first folks to think this place is beautiful, and luckily those before us sought to preserve these sights for us to enjoy today. We certainly are very lucky to have a plethora of local protected lands. From Glendale Falls to Notchview, if you’ve been following along then you know we’ve already covered some of these properties. Most of these protected lands are under the umbrella of “The Trustees of Reservations” including The Hilltown Land Trust who oversees thirteen of our local towns, including Cummington!
On the first truly warm and sunny day I left the Creamery and did a loop of some of my favorite spots, camera in hand, to share with all of you. I chose two tried and true spots, and checked out a recently opened trail to get the scoop.
First I went down the Chesterfield Gorge, and then took a look at the new trails opened up at the Conwell property in South Worthington, finally I hit up the Bryant Homestead loop. Each place has its own unique draw, but with a summer full of potential there’s no reason you can’t see them all.
This time of year the water is high, and it’s easy to see that down at the Gorge. The rapids are capped with white and the deep cool waters are a shade of jade, as they make their way through the crush of rock that defines the gorge. The top is encrusted with glacial momentos, stones the size of box trucks litter the woods. All covered with moss and leaning on each other in breathtaking formations. Even those giants are dwarfed by the walls of stone that line the river, the whole scene is dramatic and a must visit if you haven’t had the chance. And that’s just the entrance!
Past the gorge the East branch of the Westfield river opens up and mellows out, this is where the spot shines for long walks on mostly flat ground. The park encapsulates that most remarkable section, but the trail follows the river all the way to Huntington! Many people bypass the dramatic scene and head out for the long haul beside the river. It’s great for for fishing (catch and release), dog walks, or simply the pleasure of the location. It’s an easy walk, and it’s easy on the eye too.
For a new and more physically engaging hike, I recommend the recently opened Conwell property trail, it’s got a bit of a workout attached to its sights. At an unassuming pull off on the southern edge of Worthington, there’s a small break in the woods with a path leading out into a mini wonderland.
As you follow the instructions you’ll head out through the woods to Eagle’s Ridge Peek, it’s not a terribly long hike but the path is stunning. Following the red marked trees you’ll be led to an absolutely delightful pond, then up along the ridge, past some stone outcroppings, and eventually to the tippy top. Along the path I found a small snake, sunning itself, and I was able to catch a shot of it with it’s darling little tongue sniffer out. I also caught a glimpse of the namesake eagles soaring above the peek as I climbed, ever upwards.
Unfortunately the tippy top promised a view of the land from on high, but it didn’t quite deliver on that.
It was a secluded little ridge with plenty of shade to stop, breath, and refuel after the trek. But the trees grow all the way up on the mossy top, I could tell I was on the highest hill in the area, but below me was difficult to see through the tree cover.
There are 100 reasons to check out the Conwell trails, but the view from Eagle’s Peek isn’t quite one of them. That being said, I will be bringing my friends to check out this spot over the summer!
This takes us to the last hike on my list: the loop at the Bryant Homestead. This trail could command its own article, as it’s filled with history, ecology, and is an absolute must see for regional enthusiasts. Bryant was known to walk the woods while writing his poems and because of that the land was some of the first to be protected in the area.
This led to the path being one of the few spots to find Old Growth Forest in the entire state. One hundred and fifty years ago the state was booming with sheep farms; between now and then approximately 98% of all forests have been cleared at some point. This is one of the reasons you’ll encounter stonewalls seemingly randomly placed in the middle of the woods. Yes, it was about boundary lines (do you know where your boundary stones are?) but mostly it was a product of cleaning the fields up after they plowed, or moving the winter stones from the pasture. You can even tell why a wall was built from the types of stones used to build it. Rounder stones are from clearing farmland, flatter stones for building walls.
Needless to say, finding old growth in this part of New England is harder than you might expect. When you do, you’ll know the oldest trees by their plate-like bark, their lack of lower branches, and the top of the tree looking like a gnarled and twisting knot of branches. Size of the trunk isn’t everything, but it’s another good indicator especially in tree species who tend to grow a little slower. Old growth forests aren’t all about the big, prehistoric looking trees though, it’s also about the forest that develops around such trees. You’ll see a lot more space than in new forests, as well as a great diversity of tree ages. Including the rotting remains of the old giants, as they get old and eventually return to the earth they become ecosystems for new life. From fungus to insects, new trees, and even mammals looking for a den. This environment is ideal for forest life to thrive, and that’s why many people are so interested in both learning more about these places as well as preserving those that still exist.
But after a long day of hitting the trails I had to call it quits, come back to the Creamery, and share my experiences with you. I hope you get a chance to check out these awesome resources around us!
You can find the Trustees here:
And the Hilltown Land Trust here