Thursday July 12, 2012

WILLIAMSTOWN -- No sheep graze on the steep hillside today to welcome us, but Leslie Reed-Evans, director of the Williamstown Rural Lands Foun dation (WRLF), took care of that with a gracious smile that I'm sure wasn't limited to just me.

It didn't take me long to get the feeling that the buildings and grounds, too, were smiling: It feels like a happy place and has reason to be. The buildings -- including a house that dates to around 1800 with an addition from about 1830, an 1810 dairy barn, sheds and other out buildings -- easily could have been demolished rather than carefully restored.

Orioles and bluebirds sang, swallows scooped insects from the air, and somewhere nearby, hidden in the tall grasses, a small brook babbled.

Green frogs croaked from the small farm pond, which is better known now as the frog pond, where visiting girls and boys may borrow a net to catch one or two for brief examination. WRLF has many nature supplies to borrow for use on site, along with maps and explanations of the property's living things -- from birds and flowers, insects and frogs to coyotes and rabbits -- and its history. That stretches back through geologic time to the first people in these hills and the days when a lake filled this valley. Look for them in the Nature Shack, an attractive, kid-friendly learning center. That alone is worth a visit.

It was explained to me that Sheep Hill Farm was never a gentleman's farm, but primarily a working dairy farm, and probably never very prosperous. Many of the relics remain and are displayed in the barn and tool sheds. Some tools I could name, but I had to search for the labels on others. The restoration is ongoing, but even now displays take visitors back to earlier times in Williamstown.

It is fortunate that Shaun Garvey and his Berkshire Barns crew, which includes his father Mike, had a hand in the work. They moved the present silo from the nearby Wylde Farm and stabilized it here. Having lived next to Shaun's paternal grandmother, Stacia, I had the opportunity to watch Shaun grow up; I never suspected that as an adult, he would be resurrecting the past.

Reed-Evans explained that the WRLF acquired the historic 50-acre property in 2000 and now interprets both nature and history for the public. WRLF offers programs and classes throughout the year. But the trails and environs at Sheep Hill are worth a visit any time, both during the warmer months and in the winter for cross country skiing or snowshoeing.

Sheep Hill trails are rated easy to strenuous. The "easy" Mead ow Walk is a quarter mile in length, with the "strenuous" Rosenburg Ramble just over one mile. The longer trail is a loop that traverses the hillside. The Meadow Walk is the shorter walk and begins be hind the farm buildings and splits off to circle the pond, ending at a demonstration garden. The Ro sen burg Ramble continues to loop around the entire property, providing ample opportunity for bird, butterfly and dragonfly watching, as well as for exploring a wealth of wildflowers and views of the mountains across the valley, including Mount Greylock, the state's highest peak.

Travelers along Bee Hill Road also may reach this high point, where clearings and parking have been cut.

As I gazed across the valley, I thought what a marvelous place for a picnic. Fifteen thousand years ago, when Sheep Hill was waterfront property, I might have been wiggling my toes in the sand along the shore of the 450-foot-deep Lake Bascom, formed by the melting glaciers.



What: Sheep Hill

Where: 671 Cold Spring Road, Route 7, about 1.2 miles south of Williamstown Center.

The property is open for passive recreation and programs on natural history and rural heritage and is a cultural and recreational destination. An Interpretive Center in the largest barn is planned for 2012.

When: Trails are open daily throughout the year.

Programs this summer include:

  • Touch the Earth for ages 8 to 11, Monday through July 20,
  • Rustic Furniture Building, a workshop for ages 9 to 12, in August.

Information: (413) 458-2494, www.wrlf.org