Thursday October 4, 2012

WILLIAMSTOWN -- Autumn walks are most pleasurable, often highlighted by an intense blue sky and even more intense foliage, with flies and mosquitoes at a minimum. Days are shorter, but so much more can be crammed into one since they typically are characterized by low humidity and often cool breezes.

With my friend Fran Kushi of Pittsfield and my dog, Jake, I set out on a day like this from the Mountain Mead ow Preserve's Mason Street parking area to enjoy a cool, sunny afternoon. The 180 acres of hilly terrain have four miles of trails, easily followed and well marked, leading into the Green Mountain State.

We began at the Trustees of Reservations' informational kiosk and headed out along a well-groomed path snaking through a field of milkweed, grasses and goldenrod, and over Mason Hill, eventually arriving at Mountain Meadow's back door on Benedict Road in Pownal, Vt.

While enjoying its varied habitats -- forest, meadow and wetlands -- we looked for mushrooms and late-blooming asters. Colorful foliage accompanied us along the way.

It is an easy walk along a loop trail through the meadow responsible for the property's name. In early autumn, dragonflies still cruise just above the tall grasses and meadow plants. Here, too, are beautiful views of our hills and rounded peaks.

And along the way we came across an abandoned piece of farm equipment, maybe a 1940s vintage hay loader. For 200 years, agriculture was the land's primary use, except for the higher slopes that were reserved for timber.

With milkweed in such abundance, we took a moment to examine a pod; many pods will be open, some empty, others containing seeds the plant will release and float wherever the breezes take them. Around us, many seeds were airborne.

Returning to the Grace Grey lock Niles Trail, and before leaving the meadow behind, walkers can enjoy the view of the Hoosac Valley and Mount Greylock and look for Wil liamstown's church spires.

In the woods now, maples abound with some white pine and cherry sprinkled in. As we get deeper, we also notice white oak with rounded lobed leaves and witch hazel, a late-flowering shrub, now with tiny yellowish blossoms.

The climb continues moderately uphill and, with map in hand, the visitor can decide when to turn back toward Wil liams town or continue, as we did, to the Niles home. A stone and cement foundation is all that remains. Niles wrote "Bog-Trot ting for Orchids" in 1904, a wonderful little book with color illustrations that is now free to download or read online through a Google search of her name.

From here we began our re turn, eventually veering onto a trail to the left toward another overlook along the Kalarama Trail to a woods road leading to a scenic overlook at the ruins of Mausert's Camp, a rustic family getaway. Here, two fireplaces and cabin footings remain. Vistas may not be as extensive as when woods were much younger. The Mausert family enjoyed outings there in a time before the camp burned down in the 1970s.

Return to the main trail, going right and returning to the Grace Greylock Niles Trail, and take it left back to the beginning.



What: Hike in Mountain Meadow Preserve.

Mountain Meadow rises from 690 feet at the Mason Street entrance to more than 1,100 feet along much of the Vermont trails, and 1,120 feet if you choose the trail that crosses over the Mason Hill summit.

If you want to enjoy your vistas the easy way, enter the reservation from the Pownal, Vt., parking lot, meandering along flat trails to the wood road leading to Mausert's Camp.

Where: Directions to Williamstown entrance: From the intersection of Routes 2 and 7, take 7 north for 1.7 miles. Bear right onto Mason Street and follow it to the entrance and parking. Allow at least a couple hours for this unforgettable trek.

When: Open year-round, daily, sunrise to sunset.

Admission: Free. No mountain biking, and dogs must be leashed.

Information: www.thetrustees.org