Hiking BNRC Properties in Pittsfield! Get outside, get active, and recharge!
By Kimberly Gritman, Downtown Pittsfield, Inc.
Many of us have hit the trails since the pandemic started… to escape, stay fit, and feel connected to our planet during these trying times. Pittsfield has many beautiful spots to unplug and appreciate nature’s wonders. The Berkshire Natural Resources Council (BNRC), a nonprofit, charitable organization that works to protect and conserve lands throughout Berkshire County, maintains trails and reserves that are free and open to the public; two of which have trailheads located in Pittsfield. Both Pittsfield locations are great for hikers (or snowshoers – not that we are welcoming a return to winter) and you are welcome to walk your dogs there too.
The Mahanna Cobble Trail, which begins at Bousquet Ski Area, is a difficult 3.2-mile, out-and-back trail featuring gorgeous views south in all seasons. The Boulders Reserve, which can be accessed from trailheads in Pittsfield or Dalton, features 645 acres, over six miles of trails, and a vista to the west. The trails, ranging from easy to moderate, are also perfect for jogging, biking, and cross-country skiing. The Berkshire Natural Resources Council has a fantastic website with maps and additional information about all of its properties as well as a free BNRC Berkshire Trails app which includes maps for all BNRC properties. The BNRC Berkshire Trails app allows you to choose hikes based on distance and difficulty as well as create custom hikes and share them with friends.
Mahanna Cobble Trail
The Mahanna Cobble Trail begins at Bosquet Ski Area, 101 Dan Fox Drive, Pittsfield, MA 01201, where you will find trailhead parking. The first section of the 3.2-mile out-and-back trail follows a 0.6-mile route on Bousquet property. Follow the blue blazes (blue paint marks) to the woodland start of the trail where you will find an informational kiosk.
From the kiosk, the trail continues for 1 mile with switchback turns and stone steps leading to a stone bench dedicated to founding BNRC Executive Director, George Wislocki, and uninterrupted views south over Kennedy Park and Yokun Ridge. This trail is considered difficult due to elevation changes.
Later this year, Bousquet will also serve as the northern trailhead for BNRC’s “The High Road”, an eight-mile path along Yokun Ridge currently in development which will stretch from Pittsfield to Stockbridge and connect trails and conservation areas to each other and to towns throughout the Berkshires. You can read more about this exciting project here: https://www.bnrc.org/the-high-road/
And what are “Cobbles” you ask? “Cobbles” are “a Berkshire name for a classic geologic formation of exposed bedrock existing high on a ridge. They are evidence of tectonic movement that shifted ancient strata” (strata = layers of rock in the ground). “The bedrock on Mahanna Cobble is a type of schist, a metamorphic rock that has medium-to-large, flat, sheet-like grains.” If you want more history or geology, click here.
The Boulders Reserve
To access The Boulders Reserve from Pittsfield, park at the southern trailhead on Dalton Avenue. The informational kiosk can be hard to spot when driving past, so look for the parking lot directly across from the intersection of Dalton Avenue with Hubbard Avenue. The parking lot is to the left of the house at 1051 Dalton Avenue, Pittsfield, MA 01201. From the parking lot, climb the stone staircase and get right on the Blue Trail which will gradually take you to the 1,395-foot-high boulder ridge and the vista to the west. The Blue Trail is 2.8-miles round-trip and is considered moderate in difficulty due to some uneven footing and elevation changes. If you go now before the leaves return to the trees, you can make out the Taconic Range to the west, and if you go around dinner time, you can enjoy a spectacular sunset (like we did). After you reach the vista, you can choose to extend your hike by joining up with the Red Trail, another moderate trail which takes you through the reserve’s diverse forests with a stop at the pond.
On your way to and from the boulder ridge, you will enjoy a forest full of large, old, and diverse trees: oaks, maples, beeches, ashes, birches, white pines, hemlocks, and black cherry trees. This spring keep your eyes peeled for red trillium, pink lady-slippers, and other fleeting wildflowers.
As for the boulders themselves, they are “weathered chunks of gray rock, some stacked like steps, that are part of a concentric arcing called a ‘lunate fracture’.” The large outcrops on the boulder ridge formed as an interaction between ice, pressure, and the very hard quartzite found on the property.
The northern trailhead for The Boulders Reserve on Gulf Road in Dalton gives access to an easy, half-mile walk (round-trip) on the Healthy Heart Loop or a longer, easy hike on the 1.4-mile round-trip Green Trail. To learn more about The Boulders Reserve, click here.
The Berkshire Natural Resources Council also hosts numerous hikes, events, and volunteer opportunities throughout the year for individuals and families. From Saturday, April 17 through Sunday, April 25 (dawn to dusk) there will be a 1.25-mile Self-Guided StoryWalk® for families at The Boulders Reserve starting at the Pittsfield trailhead on Dalton Avenue. You can follow the pages of Mary Holland’s book “Animal Noses” through the forest and explore how different animal noses help the animals survive in their habitats. For more information on upcoming events, click here.
After your hike
Whichever BNRC property you choose to explore, you are probably going to be very hungry after all that hiking, so be sure to head to downtown Pittsfield to support our local restaurants before you head home. Feeling too sweaty? Dine outside or take it to go! But take it from us, you will need to refuel before you go home and crash (the best kind of crash – the crash after a good day’s work out and a day well spent). For a list of downtown restaurants, click here.
Before you head out
And before you head out, here are a few things to think about: Charge your cell phone! You may need it in an emergency, and you will surely also want to photo/video document all of the amazing natural beauty you will find on the trails. You may also want to refer to the BNRC Berkshire Trails app along the way. Remember to also pack plenty of water, your mask, sunscreen, and bug repellant! Even if it’s not summer yet, you can still get a nasty sunburn out on the trails or taking in the vistas! Plus, tick activity peaks from March through August and from October through November so you should stay safe by practicing simple tick prevention methods. Below are tick prevention methods from the BNRC Facebook page.
- Tuck in! Tuck your shirt into your pants and your pants into your socks.
- Consider gaiters which are a type of protective clothing for a person’s ankles and legs below the knee.
- Wear light colors, so you can identify the ticks more easily if they are on you.
- There are many types of repellents if you wish to go that route: essential oil-based, bug spray, and others that are effective but are pesticides (Permethrin and DEET-based).
- Stick to the trail! Ticks like to hang out in shaded, grassy areas. Sticking to an established trail is good prevention, but certainly is not foolproof. This is one more great reason to keep dogs, who are tick-magnets, on leash.
- Tick check regularly (during and after your hike).
- Take a shower post-hike.
- Check your backpack.
You will also want to familiarize yourself with any trail policies for the locations you will be exploring. Check out the BNRC General Trail Policies from the BNRC website below.
- Masks are now required at all times, including outdoors. Group leaders are responsible for ensuring that hike participants wear their masks. (Per Governor Baker’s Revised Mask Order, as of 11/06/2020).
- Please be safe: maintain at least a 6-foot distance between yourself and others. Be prepared to step aside, and let people know you are near if they can’t see you.
- Avoid parking on the road. If you arrive at a location and the parking lot is full, please come back another time.
- Please leash your dog on BNRC trails, since our four-legged friends don’t seem to understand social distancing.