hiking

Walk the Walk, Talk the Talk

As a relatively new rescue-dog owner, I can personally attest to the mental and physical health benefits of walking and hiking. There is not a season, or a day that goes by, wherein I don't have to take my energetic dog on a lengthy walk or hike. Since we adopted her, nearly 4 years ago, I have discovered numerous walking and hiking areas in the Pioneer Valley. I enjoy them all immensely, for various reasons. And, while I admit that there are days when I dread the walk - once I am out, moving my body, breathing in the fresh air and enjoying the beautiful scenery of the Northampton area- the dread washes away and is replaced with gratitude.

Check out this recent article in the Daily Hampshire Gazette which highlights some local hiking areas to enjoy this summer (spring, fall and winter as well!)

Five serene treks that can promote physical and mental well-being

  • A walking path at Atkins Reservoir in Amherst Staff Photo/Andy Castillo

  • By ANDY CASTILLO
    @AndyCCastillo

Monday, August 06, 2018

Ahead in a clearing lies a pine tree. Sunlight, filtering down through a leafy canopy illuminates its bare branches. There’s nothing to be heard but the gentleness of wind and the sweet trill of birdsong, which echos through towering oak trunks and across the many vernal pools scattered throughout Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary.

I’ve walked through these woods many times, having grown up in Northampton near the Big Y shopping plaza on King Street. Not far away, a great blue heron stalks cautiously forward into a tributary of the Mill River, startling a deer, which raises its head from grazing in the reeds. Peace reigns over the clearing for a little while. But it doesn’t last.

It’s broken, suddenly, by two squirrels. They leap, one after the other, down from a tree and into dry leaves that outline a narrow path ahead of me, which winds on for four miles through the nature preserve’s 724 acres, which is spread across Northampton and Easthampton.

While familiar, the scene never gets old. And, even though I’ve watched Hampshire County’s commercial industry and its neighborhoods expand over the last few decades, I still find it easy to escape into the quietness of nature, for my physical and mental health, on readily accessible trails throughout the region.

Below are a few of my favorites, close to my hometown, where I still escape to for a peaceful walk.

 

Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary, Easthampton

The trails at Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary, maintained by the Massachusetts Audubon Society, are open to the public from dawn until dusk. The preserve’s terrain is diverse, ranging from forest, to grasslands, to wetlands, and the walking paths aren’t too strenuous. Native flora is prevalent along the trails, as is wildlife, which can be viewed from a tower overlooking the Mill River.

A variety of trails, which include an 850-foot loop over crushed stone with a guide rope along the side, are accessible from a parking area at 127 Combs Road in Easthampton. Next to the parking area, there’s a nature center where events are held throughout the year. Audio tours that coincide with the trails can be listened to by calling 413-272-0006. Admission is $4 for adults and $3 for children and seniors. Members are free.

Directions: Arcadia Wildlife Sactuary is at 127 Combs Road, Easthampton. From Route 10, turn onto Lovefield Street, which isn’t far from Valley Recycling, take a left onto Clapp Street, another left onto Old Springfield Road, and an immediate left onto Combs Road. From East Street, turn onto Fort Hill Road, pass Fort Hill Brewery, take a right onto Old Springfield Road, and an immediate left onto Combs Road.

 

Fitzgerald Lake Conservation Area, Northampton

The dock at Fitzgerald Lake, which is about a two- minute walk from a parking area at North Farms Road in Northampton, provides a quick respite from the busyness of life. Even though it’s not far from a few of the Pioneer Valley’s main thoroughfares, with Route 9 on one side and Route 5 on the other, while standing at the end of the dock surrounded by reeds, it feels as though you’re miles from civilization.

From the dock, a two-mile trail leads around the lake to a dam on the other side, and from there, another mile or so of trail connects to a second parking area at the former Moose Lodge off of Cooke Avenue. The lake itself is artificial, and shallow, created when the dam was made in the 1960s. Growing up, jogging to the dam from the Moose Lodge, or around the lake from North Farms Road to Cook Avenue, were favorite running and mountain biking routes of mine. The trail system, which includes a shorter loop that takes about 10 to 15 minutes to walk near the dock, can also be accessed from Marian Street and Coles Meadow Road. Trails are mostly protected from the sun by forest canopy and traverse rocky sections and cross small sections of grassland and wind through the woods that surround the lake.

Wildlife can be seen from various lookout points along the way, including a wildlife observation blind, and sections of the trail pass close by large swamps. The conservation area is maintained by the Broad Brook Coalition, a nonprofit organization, and the Northampton Conservation Commission.

More information on walking the trails, which are free and open to the public, can be found at www.broadbrookcoalition.org.

Directions:61 North Farms Road, Northampton. The North Farms Road access point has gravel-lot parking, and features an accessible paved path, bridge and boardwalk out to the dock. 196 Cooke Avenue (former Moose Lodge, up behind the Northampton Walmart), features an entry point to the trails and street parking on the right side of an unpaved lot. Marian Street: Entrance and street parking. Coles Meadow Road: Entrance and street parking.

Robert Frost Trail, Amherst

While there are many sections of the Robert Frost Trail, which stretches 47 miles from South Hadley to Wendell, my favorite section can be found just off of Cushman Road in Amherst next to the Atkins Reservoir. Across from the trailhead is a short walking path that leads along the reservoir’s edge, which is another beautiful place for a peaceful and short walk.

The natural colors along the trail are vivid and change with each season. In the spring, aquatic plants pop from the blue water in vibrant yellow tones.

Summertime brings a Jurassic torrent of green that’s tempered come fall by the rustic orange grace of autumn. And in the winter, the redness of dead leaves lining narrow streams, bubbling from the adjacent Adams Brook, contrasts with the whiteness of untouched snow.

The trail is aptly named in honor of Frost, the great American poet, as it highlights the simple beauty of New England’s woods. I often escape here, alone, to find inspiration in nature. A few other sections of the Robert Frost Trail that I particularly appreciate include one that leads around Puffers Pond, and another in Sunderland at the Mount Toby State Forest near Cranberry Pond, which has a beautiful trail system, albeit a little challenging, of its own.

Directions: Area of 60 Cushman Road, Amherst. The entrance to the Robert Frost Trail is on the right, across from the Atkins Reservoir, and there’s a narrow pull-off for parking nearby. From Bridge Street, which passes by Cushman Common and Cushman Market and Cafe and turns into East Leverett Road, turn right onto Market Hill Road. From there, drive straight about a mile and a half, continuing on after the street turns into Cushman Road, to the pull-off.

The Arthur F. Kinney Center for Interdisciplinary Renaissance Studies, Amherst

Mowed paths crisscross 28 sprawling acres at the Arthur F. Kinney Center for Interdisciplinary Renaissance Studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. From a house built to look like a Renaissance cottage, home to the center, the paths sweep down a grassy hill filled with native flora and birds, which dive after crickets and other insects. At the top, next to a period era garden, a few of the trails lead into a wooded section.

It’s a beautiful place for an evening walk around sunset because of the expansive view from the top, and because many of the walking paths are completely exposed to the sun. The trails are open to the public all the time, but the center, at 650 East Pleasant St., Amherst, is only open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. At closing time, a gate at Pleasant Street is locked, and any cars still in the parking lot must call campus police to get out. Elsewhere, cars can also park on nearby side streets.

Directions:650 East Pleasant St., Amherst, not far from the North Amherst Fire Station and the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s main campus. The center has a gravel lot, which closes at 5 p.m., and there’s additional parking at nearby streets such as Sherman Lane, which is across the road. 

Fort River Birding and Nature Trail, Hadley

A one-mile-long pathway, carved into the landscape, leads through diverse habitats, ranging from grasslands to wetlands and forest, at the Fort River Birding and Nature Trail in Hadley, which is in the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge. The path, which was completed a few years ago, is mostly gravel, graded to accommodate wheelchairs, and traverses over vernal pools and woodland areas that would otherwise be inaccessible.

The pathway itself is beautiful — sometimes it’s elevated on stilts — carefully designed to highlight quintessential elements of Connecticut River’s watershed, such as tributaries, vernal pools, and the surrounding forest. At a few different points along the way there are shaded gazebos and platforms with seating areas that overlook particularly beautiful areas for birdwatching.

It’s the perfect place for a morning or afternoon walk, although it can be hot at times because some sections of trail aren’t covered. Come evening, especially in the spring and summer months, mosquitos are out in force.

Directions: 63 Moody Bridge Road, Hadley. From South Maple Street, which is one of the back roads to the Hampshire Mall from Northampton, turn onto Moody Bridge Road at the four-way stop sign. The nature trail is at the end of a dirt turn-off on the right, as indicated by a small sign.

Andy Castillo can be reached at acastillo@gazettenet.com.

New Listing in Chesterfield MA - 206 Bryant Street!

Contemporary home on 17.22 bucolic acres in the heart of beautiful Chesterfield MA. This 3 bedroom, 2.5 bath has all the bells and whistles! Open concept floor plan on first floor with large cook's kitchen, wood stove, dining room, family room and TV room, shaded porch and sunny deck, tiled mudroom and office/guest room across from first floor powder room. Second floor is comprised of a gracious master suite, with a large walk-in closet, 2 additional bedrooms and addtional full bath/laundry room. Walk out basement is ready to be finished, or can be used as-is. There is also a large walk up attic with ample storage space. In the spacious yard, you will find a large storage shed, fire pit, stone walls and plenty of wildlife. 12 minutes to Williamsburg, 20 to Florence, 26 to Northampton center.

Enjoy camping, hiking, skiing, fishing, horseback riding, berry-picking, bird watching and all that Chesterfield and the hill towns have to offer - as well as an abundance of cultural events and natural beauty in the nearby Berkshires. This property is approved for horses, and would be great for gardening. With an abundance of sunlight, it would likely be a great candidate for solar power too!

206 Bryant Road in Chesterfield. Offered at $399,000. Call Julie Starr to set up your private showing, or attend the open house this Saturday, May 5th from 11-1 pm.

View from the top of the driveway

Side of the house

Cook's kitchen

Wood-burning stove in living room

TV room

Master bedroom

Second bedroom

Third bedroom

 

 

 

Big Changes Afoot at the Dog Park in Northampton!

It's a sad turn of events for the thousands of Northampton dog owners who rely on the "dog park" as an open space to their dogs to run and play. The following article in the Daily Hampshire Gazette suggests that if the new, more stringent plan for the Smith Farm Fields is approved by the state, dog owners would be required to keep their dogs on a leash at all times while using the property for recreational purposes.

As a Northampton citizen who lives near the "dog park" and uses it almost daily to get my dog the exercise she needs, I am disheartened by this news. Luckily, we live in the beautiful Pioneer Valley, where there are numerous other conservation areas with lovely hikes to enjoy. Still, the convenience of having this wonderful resource in the heart of our city has been such a plus. As any dog owner with an energetic, but friendly dog, can tell you -- an on leash walk just doesn't compare to being able to run free and play with other dogs. The joy they experience is infectious, and in turn brings joy to those of us who consider them a part of our families. It has helped me broaden my community as well.

Smith School trustees back leashed dogs at ‘dog park’

By STEPHANIE MURRAY
StephMurr_Jour

Daily Hampshire Gazette

NORTHAMPTON — Dog owners visiting Smith Farm Fields, popularly referred to as the “dog park,” would be required to keep their pets on leashes if the state approves the recommendation by the Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School board of trustees.


Tuesday evening’s vote prompted some 30 people, many of whom spoke in favor of allowing dogs to continue roaming freely, to leave the meeting abruptly.

A revised land-use plan, which includes the policy requiring dogs to remain leashed, now goes to the Massachusetts Department of Agriculture, the agency that regulates the use of the property.

The 282-acre wooded property off Burts Pit Road is owned by the state, leased by the city and run by the school. For years, people have used it for activities currently not permitted under the state law governing the land, including dog walking.

A previous plan put forth by the board of trustees would have allowed “passive recreation,” including off-leash dog walking, to continue, according to Superintendent Jeffrey Peterson.

“It allowed virtually everything to happen,” Peterson said. “It was denied by the state” in October 2015 because it lacked structure.

The board of trustees presented its new, stricter plan Tuesday night.

According to Chairman Michael T. Cahillane, the land-use plan was drafted with the best interests of the school in mind, but it was not meant to upset community members who use the land for recreational purposes.

“This is not cast in stone, but we have to start somewhere,” said Cahillane, “Tonight is the start of a process.”

Changes in policy
The new plan states that organized groups holding events on the grounds, such as the Smith College cross country team, must submit a request form as they do when using other school facilities.

A no-trespassing order will be established to give the school “recourse” if an individual maintains unacceptable behavior, the plan states.

Dogs must be leashed and “under full control of their owner,” according to the plan. The plan predicts “recurring dog issues” will be reduced by leashes. The article was amended to add that dog owners must remove all dog waste from the grounds.

“Most dog owners still allow their animals to run off leash and although some owners have organized a committee to help clean up after their animals, clearly most owners do not,” the plan states.

Signs will be maintained throughout the property to educate the public on the school’s policies, and the school will maintain “best management practices” to show the public the primary purpose of the land is to educate students.

“In the past Smith Vocational had admittedly reduced its farming activity which gave large sections of the property the (appearance) that it had been abandoned,” the plan states. “SVAHS is now again managing the entire property.”

The plan also gives the school the authority to close the parking lot in “emergency situations” after consulting with the Massachusetts Department of Agriculture, the mayor’s office and the Northampton Police Department.

An article regarding police enforcement was removed from the plan at the suggestion of Mayor David J. Narkewicz. He explained the suggested “weekly drive through” by Northampton Police and the city’s animal control department was “not legally feasible” because police cannot enforce school policies.

Police can, however, intervene in the event of a dog bite, a lost dog, or trespassing.

Community divided
The meeting was attended by approximately 50 people. About a dozen community members spoke for and against allowing dogs to roam off-leash at Smith Farm Fields.

John Schieffelin, 79, told the audience that walking his dog Dulce without a leash keeps them both healthy and happy. They visit the park six or seven days a week, he said, and Dulce “has a ball” playing with fellow dogs.

“We have this woodsy, open, natural place … This is a jewel in our city,” Schieffelin said.

Other speakers echoed Schieffelin, saying walking a dog off-leash is good exercise because the dogs do not “stop and sniff” as frequently and dogs can socialize more naturally without a leash. Many added that visiting the property regularly has fostered friendships among fellow dog owners and community members.

But free-roaming dogs pose a problem for others, such as Sue Grant, who runs a weekly race at Smith Farm Fields on Tuesday evenings.

“Fewer and fewer people are courageous enough to run on their own,” Grant said.

According to Grant, dogs jump on runners and discourage them from using the park. She said a leash law should be posted and enforced to keep dogs under control.