Thursday June 21, 2012

A visitor to the Berkshires would be hard pressed to find a prettier walk than this.

From beginning to end, Lime Kiln Farm Wildlife Sanctuary includes vistas of the Taconic Mountains beyond open hayfields, and history -- glimpses of barbed-wire fences, stone walls, long abandoned marble quarry pits and a 40-foot lime kiln.

This easy walk offers plenty to enjoy in a peacefulness interrupted only by singing birds, frogs, crickets and the rustling of leaves.

Mount Everett, reaching 2,624 feet above sea level, is clearly visible three miles west of the parking area.

Walkers won't have to walk far to begin enjoying this outing. Start at the orientation kiosk with a large local map and information.

Trail maps are available. To make the journey easier, follow the blue plastic markers to head away from the kiosk and the yellow ones to return.

My hiking companions and I soon found ourselves among aging apple trees, as we walked along a former dairy farm road, with wetlands on our left and a hayfield on our right. Listen for both green and bull frogs in the small farm pond.

Here the trail divides, and for a shorter walk it makes a loop passing the cement and brick lime kiln partially hidden by summer foliage on the right.

As we walked along the edges of open hay fields, we kept a watch for evergreen red cedars. After a late spring or early summer rain, they will be festooned with small brownish apple-like growths with protruding orange tentacles. The growths are a parasite on both eastern red cedars and apple trees and are aptly named the cedar-apple rust.

After passing an often-waterlogged section of the path, keep an eye to the left for the first of the areas small quarries hidden just off the trail.

On the right after a gentle uphill trek, stand cement footings for the former trestle that carried marble up to the open mouth of the kiln, where it was dumped in to cook at temperatures upward of 1,400 degrees.

The kiln, constructed in 1909, operated for only three years before it was abandoned. Look for it on the right, just before the trail enters a switchback or hairpin turn.

Along the way, take care not to brush up against or lean on the prickly ash, sometimes called the toothache tree -- a common shrub or small tree in the southern Berkshires. Its branches are protected by sharp spines. The Mohicans would chew its bark or paste ground bark on their gums to relieve tooth ache. Its crushed leaves have a lemon scent. The former pastures, now kept as hay fields, are mowed annually, but not until late summer, to protect grassland nesting birds.

After viewing the kiln (preferably from a safe distance), continue the loop back to the parking area or follow the Quarry Trail to the right. It will soon come to a low monument of the three ladies who lived on this property and are responsible for conserving it. Today it is maintained as a Massachusetts Audubon Sanctuary.

Keep an eye out for pools of water alongside the trail. These are former pits where marble for the kiln was quarried. Take a short spur off to the right to visit a large boulder among the trees, a gift of the receding glacier. Geologists call boulders like this one, a "glacial erratic."

Return to the Quarry trail and continue, taking a right onto the Taconic Vista Trail with a brief detour to the vista itself, with views of distant rolling hills and mountains.

Here the fields can be alive on sunny days with butterflies; more than 50 species have been discovered on the sanctuary.

From the deeper, cooler woods, listen for singing thrushes, both the melodious wood thrush and veery, with its "vee-ur, vee-ur" song descending in pitch. Ovenbirds loudly call "teacher-teacher-teacher-teach," and they gave the name to the trail ahead.

Soon the path turns onto an old road, rejoining the Quarry Trail, where we discovered a large gray tree frog nestled in an upturned blue trail marker leading us back to the parking area.

And on an earlier morning visit, this past May, we encountered a rare butterfly, a giant swallowtail -- North America's largest butterfly -- as we strolled back to the car.



What: Lime Kiln Wildlife Sanctuary

From the north: From the
Route 7/20 junction in Lenox, bear right onto Route 7
to Stockbridge. 

Continue on Route 7 south through Great Barrington and Sheffield. About a mile south
of the center of Sheffield,
turn right at Silver Street.
Follow Silver Street for 1.1 miles to the sanctuary
entrance on the right.

From Connecticut: From the Connecticut/Massachusetts
border, follow Route 7 north
for 3.6 miles to Silver Street
on the left. Follow Silver Street for 1.1 miles to the sanctuary on the right.

Hours: Open every day,
dawn to dusk. No facilities.

Admission: Adults $3,
children $2,
Seniors and children
under three get in free.
Dogs are not allowed.

Information: Berkshire Wildlife Sanctuaries, (413) 637-0320. Beware of ticks and poison ivy.