GREAT BARRINGTON >> Bullard Woods in Stockbridge, property of the Stockbridge Bowl Association since 1957, is home to dozens and dozens of remarkable old "big trees," as some call them.
As Donna and I walked from the Hawthorne Street parking lot to the lake one Sunday afternoon, we could only respect the height and girth of so many white pines, white ash, hemlock and other species around us.
My favorite forest guru, Robert T. Leverett, with his friend John Knuerr, assessed the woods in 2004. They identified a new state record white oak (115.3 feet high, 6.9 feet diameter at breast height). They also found a white pine that was more than 133 feet high, a tulip tree 124.4 feet, a shagbark hickory 114 feet and a black cherry 100.8 feet.
Where these trees are on the property, I can't tell you. As we walked the meandering trail we mostly saw the pines and red and white oak soaring above the canopy. We saw tulip tree leaves but couldn't trail them to the trees.
"Bullard Woods is the only fairly diverse, mature woods site I have seen in Massachusetts where the white oaks stand toe to toe with the red oaks and in case of Bullard, may slightly eclipse the reds," Leverett said on an Eastern Native Tree Society webpage.
He also observed, "The big trees are rapidly falling and so the magic of Bullard Woods will soon be history."
Leverett's premonition proved out when he made another visit in 2010. He went to where "two huge white pines once grew. I say once, because one had fallen and hit the other causing it to lose one of its two trunks and die. It was a rather sad sight. The pine that fell measured 13.4 feet around when standing and was slightly over 130 feet in height. It was one of our true single-trunked thirteeners in Massachusetts."
A "thirteener" meaning its dbh exceeding 13 feet. "They form a pretty exclusive club, and the Bullard Woods thirteener was one of the best," he said.
We saw quite a few fallen pines during our walk in November — I don't know which was the one Leverett referred to. All were impressive. The loss of the old trees doesn't diminish the value and power of the woods; it's part of a natural transition. Successive trees will take over and thrive in their place.
One can also go to the southern extreme of the Bullard Woods and reach lakeshore. A trail connects with another on land owned by Tanglewood that will take you to yet another on Gould Meadows, a property of the town of Stockbridge.
Old-growth woods are rare even in the Berkshires, which cut off 99.9 percent of its forests for timber, pulpwood and charcoal in the 19th century. The forests have grown back, but the difference is obvious when you walk among the big trees. The air is different. The lichens are different. The feeling is different.
Bullard Woods was once part of the East India merchant William Storey Bullard's estate, Highwood, now part of Tanglewood. Bullard's son Dr. William Norton Bullard (1853-1931) and his wife, Mary Reynolds Bullard (1865-1960), enjoyed the woods. She arranged to give it to the Stockbridge Bowl Association, with the stipulation it be maintained in its purity. Dr. Bullard was neurologist for Boston City Hospital and collected early medical books. Mrs. Bullard was a trustee of the Museum of Fine Arts.
The Bowl Association organized in 1946. Among its holdings is a small island in the lake conveyed by the Laurel Hill Association in 1948. Laurel Hill felt the association was in better position to deal with it, given Bowl members owned more watercraft.
The only old tree I saw on a hike into the Barkerville Conservation Area off Barker Road, Pittsfield, was a wolf pine at the junction of a utility road and an ATV trail. The park is designated by a sign. I parked close to the closed gate and walked down the road, a stream burbling to my right. When I came to the old pine, I could see an electric transformer farm to the left, and woods to the right.
I went right, along a curvy and up-and-down trail as far as a stream then circled back cross-lots. In examining an aerial map later, I saw that if I had kept going I would have circled around and come back to the electricity installation — which is not part of the conservation land.
The city owns 74 acres here, acquired in 2011 and seen as a strategic link in the long-range accumulation of greenway properties from Pittsfield Airport to Clapp Park. There aren't any particular features related to human activity that I could see — stone walls or foundations or the like. But the forest is so remarkably young when compared with Bullard Woods.
Bernard A. Drew is a regular Eagle contributor.