Wednesday September 19, 2012

You never know when a few leisurely steps might change the course of your life. Herman Melville was 13 when he first set foot in the Berk shires, and after years of visiting family and making memories here, he decided to set down roots at Arrowhead.

"The Melvilles and More woods became great friends, and there was a cart track back through the woods that the children, and probably adults, used to visit one another," explained Berkshire Historical Society director Betsy Sherman.

"Through out his life, Melville loved the outdoors; his cousin Priscilla said that the Berkshires were 'his first love.' "

A walk hosted by Will Garrison, on behalf of the Berk shire Historical Society, will trace the path once traversed by Melville during the mid-to-late 17th century as well as share his personal story and the history of Arrowhead. That walk is one of 53 experiences tied to the Heritage Walks organized by the Upper Housatonic Valley Nat ional Heritage Area.

"Our hope is that people who live here, or just visiting, will discover something unique, interesting and special to them," said Dan Bolognani, executive director of the Upper Housatonic Valley National Heritage Area. "Many people are surprised to find something exciting practically in their backyard."

This is the 10th year Heritage Walks have been organized by the heritage area.


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The number of guided events has more than doubled in that time, to 53, and the walks, initially tied to history and natural resources of the region, have evolved to include art, industry, the environment, and cultural venues.

And along with the traditional walks, this year's guides will lead canoeing along the Housatonic River, bicycling trips, behind-the- scenes tours of historic theaters, and evening owl-sighting trips.

Heritage Walks will step out this Saturday and Sunday and on Oct. 13 and Oct. 14 at 23 com munities in Berkshire Coun ty and Connecticut.

Local historians will lead the walks, and so will teachers and community mem bers with a vested interest in a certain subject.

"We want everyone to enjoy the walks and to experience the rich heritage that exists here, and we want to include walks that appeal to a wide range of interests," said Bolognani.

Bolognani said he will be out and about at his favorite spots -- historic homes.

"I really enjoy seeing how people lived in the past, from humble to opulent," he said. "I'm intrigued by the diversity of people who've called this region home. The heritage walks are my yearly opportunity to visit these special places for free, and to have an expert guide to walk with."

According to its website, the 964 square miles of the Upper Housatonic Valley run from Kent, Conn., to Lanes borough, along the Housatonic River watershed. Its eastern border is the Berkshire Plateau, and the Taconic range forms its western border. The nationally designated "heritage area" is one of 49 in the country.

"Our hope is that people come away with a love for, and a better understanding of, the significant people and places and things that make our region special," said Bolognani. "Ult imately, we want people to appreciate and care for these precious assets, and to become stewards of our heritage."

Carrie Saldo can be reached via her web site, www.carriesaldo.com

Heritage walks: All of the walks Saturday and Sunday are free. Some need reservations.

Full schedule: A complete list of walks at heritage-hikes.org.

Here are a select few:

Housatonic Valley Association's Dennis Regan and Alison Dixon will lead a four-mile paddle of the Housatonic River in Stockbridge on Saturday, starting at 10 a.m. They will paddle past the Stockbridge Country Club, on a slow, flat section of the river, to the Glendale Bridge.

Step into a 300-planting American chestnut orchard in Falls Village, Conn., Sunday at 1:30 p.m. Guide Ellery Sinclair will talk about efforts to restore the American chestnut tree to the landscape and what caused the initial loss of the trees. (Cider and Chestnut cookies will be served.)

Gail Pinna and Mary Jane Caliento of the Dalton Historic Commission will lead an Oct. 13 walk through a section of town believed to have been on the "underground railroad," and explain the history of the Hoose House, another railroad stop. They will trek through the rock formations and uneven terrain of Wizard's Glen. They step off from Gulf Road at 11 a.m.