HOUSATONIC -- With a moderate rain falling, we met Karen LeBlanc, education and outreach director waited outing at the 54-acre farm and wildlife sanctuary. Mark Miller of Pittsfield had come here a week earlier with his family and was anxious to join me for a guided walk about the sanctuary farm with David Ellis, operations manager for Project Native.
We got underway, anxious to explore their 22-acre wild flower meadow, formerly a farm field and the forest trail that meanders through the Wislocki Woods -- named after George Wislocki, founder of the Berkshire Natural Resources Council and a longtime local preservationist. These woods contain 6.5 acres of old growth forest preserved for white oak regeneration.
As we walked, inhaling the many fresh aromas of the woods and meadow, Ellis explained, "the Camp Becket YMCA Service [Corps] kids have been coming here once a week for three years. They come from all over -- New York City, New Jersey, North shore of Massachusetts, and this past year, one from Norway. These young men work mostly with plants, but last year put in our first official trail through the woods."
It is along these trails we are walking, talking and absorbing the freshness.
Coming upon a bench just off the main path that more resembles a sculpture, LaBlanc added, "We gave the Becket kids old scrap wood, like pallets and old barn beams, and told them to build benches and to be creative. And they were."
"They not only help us but also the Trustees of Reservations at Bartholomew's Cobble where, like here, they work at removing invasive plants," Ellis said. "They worked on a wetland restoration project, converting a pasture to a wetland forest, and recently finished planting 1,800 trees down at the Cobble last week."
We come to a lovely open meadow with early fall flowers, LeBlanc and Ellis both said, Project Native is converting this field to a native meadow and has added 85 species of native plants. It takes work and time to keep invasive plants under control.
"We mow this meadow on a rotating schedule to keep it a meadow," Ellis said, "and parts need mowing now; small trees and shrubs are beginning to fill in."
The rain is gentler now as the trail enters a canopy of trees, and Karen spots several coral mushrooms that we nearly step on, and patches of the ground-hugging partridge berry. It is a good year; these plants are literally covered with bright red berries. Everything is so fresh.
Following the Meadow Loop Trail -- through the 22-acre meadow -- they gave tidbits of local history.
"The original farm here was 600 acres, dairy. The first owner made spinning wheels," Ellis said.
The trail led between meadow and woods, and LeBlanc drew attention to a brush pile.
"Its a construction assembled on a wooden pallet, a habitat for rabbits or foxes," she said.
We like to think the rabbits will be thankful and leave our gardens alone."
"Last winter we saw plenty of rabbit tracks around it," Ellis agreed.
We come to another portion of meadow that also attracts a wide variety of insects.
"This is where we do bug safaris and take the kids out," LeBlanc said. "There is plenty to see here. And beyond, in these woods," she said, pointing, "you will find May apples, wild bleeding hearts and anemones, all natives that we have planted.
"The Heartwood School in [the Town of] Washington, built our Kiosk out of timber from an old barn on our property," Ellis explained as we approached it. "As kiosks go, this one is unique."
We end our jaunt, dripping wet, with a visit to their Garden and Nature Shop, meeting Roxanne Gawthrop, managing the shop with a most welcoming and friendly disposition.
Before Mark and I return to the car, we peruse the many dozens of native trees and shrubs offered for sale, and I can't help thinking how wonderful it would be to take a few home.
If you go ...
What: Project Native trails
Where: 342 North Plain Road, Route 41, Housatonic
When: Dawn to dusk, daily
Butterfly house also open daily,
10 a.m. to 4 p.m.