Working to restore floodplains forest at Bartholomew's Cobble in Sheffield, Mass


SHEFFIELD -- The idea of planting trees for the future isn't new -- in about 200 B.C. the Roman poet Caecilus Statius said, "We plant trees not for ourselves, but for future generations."

Several generations of volunteers are following his advice and working to restore floodplain forest at Bartholomew's Cobble, a Trustees of Reservations property in Ashley Falls.

"I imagine that forest in 80 years," said Rene Wendell, Conservation Ranger at the property, "giant silver maples reaching to the sky, a carpet of spring beauty and violets in the spring. In the summer an understory of ostrich ferns and spice bush. A place where pileated woodpeckers weave in-between massive trunks and screech owls nest in tree cavities."

In the late 1800s farmland covered half of Massachusetts, and farmers often cleared right up to the river banks, in areas we today call floodplains. Even as trees gradually reclaimed much of the state's former farmland, many acres along our rivers either stayed in agriculture or became sites for factories, businesses and homes.

"But the loss of these floodplain forests is a problem," said Julie Richburg, Western Regional Ecologist for the Trustees of Reservations. "The uniquely adapted trees that grow in these forests act as buffers, absorbing and slowing the water that spills over the banks, allowing silt and sediment to settle out of floodwaters."

The Cobble presently has roughly 10 acres of mature floodplain forest, and as the new plantings of 1700 trees change field to forest they will double the area with what eventually will become a canopy of silver maple, cottonwood, willow, hackberry, elm and sycamore.

Richburg, who has been involved with the project since its inception, began working for the Trustees in 2006. By 2008, she and collogues had begun looking for funding, and by 2011, with monies from the Housatonic Natural Resource Damages fund, she began a two pronged approach: One, to control invasive plants on about 85 acres, and the other, to begin reforestation of the floodplain.

As we walk past numbered stakes, supporting some of the 1700 saplings planted last summer, Richburg explained, "We have planted 10 acres across three fields. Half River Meadow is 2.5 acres, Spero Field, is 4.5 acres, and Southeast Corner Field, is 3 acres."

Back in a mature section of the forest, one of the state's champion cottonwoods, maybe 150 to 200 years old, grows beside the path. One of its enormous limbs, large as many of the nearby mature trees, lies on the ground. Pointing out the conspicuous hole at its base, she said her husband and daughter joined her standing inside the tree, and she knows of an instance when 14 high schoolers all fit inside at one time.

If the present generation doing the planting is young enough, they may return year after year, decade after decade to see the progress of their endeavors. Seven Boy Scouts, 9 to 11 years old, from Sheffield Troop 28 planted 20 ash saplings, helped restore an overgrown field adjacent to the Housatonic River. The Holyoke Youth Conservation Corps, the Trustees of Reservation's youngest volunteers, range in age from 15 to 17 and work during the summer on stewardship projects, including the planting of silver maples last summer.

Other groups have volunteered in different ways, from gathering seedlings, caring for and growing them, to preparing plots and the actual planting. Project Native, a nonprofit native plant farm and wildlife sanctuary in Housatonic, helped plant 25 elms donated by

The Nature Conservancy, and a small army of people, including home school shoolers, continue to assist in many aspects of the project.

"It's a unique opportunity for our volunteers," Richburg said. "They get to start a great project like this and follow it through the years. Their efforts are visible right after they plant these trees, but then they'll get to watch the trees grow. They'll see how they have helped to create habitat and then get to see it change over time."

If you go ...

Bartholomew's Cobble

Created by geologic upheavals when the Taconic and Berkshire ranges were formed, this hundred-foot-high bedrock outcropping introduces visitors to a rugged and exotic landscape that also supports 800 species of plants while offering terrific mountain vistas.

Where: 105 Weatogue Road, Ashley Falls, Sheffield

When: Trails open daily, sunrise to sunset. Visitor's Center and Natural History Museum 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily

Admission: $5 for adults, $1 for children (6-12)

Information: (413) 229-8600,

Directions: From Route 7 south of Sheffield center, turn right onto Route 7A and follow for half a mile. Turn right onto Rannapo Road and follow for 1.5 miles. Turn right onto Weatogue Road.

From Route 7 North in Canaan, Conn., turn left onto Route 7A and cross the state border. Turn left onto Rannapo Road and follow for 0.8 mile. Turn left onto Weatogue Road to entrance

Trails: For visitors wanting to explore, the Bailey trail runs parallel to the Housatonic River for about a third of a mile and then joins the Spero Trail, which runs through the existing floodplain forest and into the restoration fields for about another third of a mile.

If you continue on the Spero Trail, it makes a nice loop through the hemlock forest back to the Bailey Trail.

All in all, you can walk from the visitor's center to Bailey Trail and Spero Trail and back to the visitors' center for about a 1.6 mile loop.


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