keystonearchCC.jpg

A pair of local Keystone Arch bridges have been designated as National Historic Landmarks by the U.S. Department of Interior.

The number of American bald eagles has quadrupled since 2009.

Government scientists in a recent report said more than 300,000 birds now soar over the lower 48 states. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said bald eagles, the national symbol that once teetered on the brink of extinction, (due to habitat destruction and degradation, illegal shooting, and the contamination of its food source, largely as a consequence of DDT), have flourished in recent years, growing to more than 71,400 nesting pairs and about 316,700 individual birds.

“We’re approaching 80 pairs of bald eagles statewide, which is absolutely wonderful,” said Dave Paulson of the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (MassWildlife). “This is a great time of year because right now, the eagles have either laid eggs or they will be soon. They’ll start hatching in April and May, and they’ll be very active once that happens.”

Paulson said the eagles tend to nest in tall white pines near lakes, ponds and rivers.

They have even made it to the south shore of Massachusetts, Paulson said. Before that, the last sighting of a baby eagle was 115 years ago. “It really captivates the local community because they are this majestic species that people grew up not seeing, but we’re seeing them more and more,” he said. “The fact that they are starting to enter into these suburbs and easterly towns is wonderful.”

Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland hailed the eagle’s recovery and noted that the majestic, white-headed bird has always been considered sacred to Native American tribes and the USA generally. “The strong return of this treasured bird reminds us of our nation’s shared resilience and the importance of being responsible stewards of our lands and waters that bind us together,″ said Haaland, the first Native American cabinet secretary.

As readers are probably aware, DFW folks are busy this time of year finding the eagle nests and banding the young ones. I recently asked Andrew Madden, DFW Western District Supervisor if he used booms or anything like that to get to the tall nests. No, he said, he shimmies up the tall trees to get to them. I suspect the eagles are not too pleased with him invading their nests. Yo! I think that man deserves hazardous duty pay!

He asks that if people see eagles to report them to MassWildlife, especially if we see pairs of them or those carrying nest building material. The reporting of nests by the public helps them to paint a picture of the population’s growth.

Trout stocking

Last week, subject to last minute change, the following local waters were scheduled to be stocked by Massachusetts DFW: South Branch of the Hoosic River in Cheshire and Adams, East Branch of the Housatonic River in Hinsdale and Dalton, Housatonic River (C&R) in Lee and Stockbridge, Deerfield River in Buckland, Charlemont and Florida; West Branch of the Westfield River in Becket, Huntington, Chester and Middlefield, East Branch of the Westfield River in Chesterfield, Cummington and Windsor; Farmington River in Otis, Tolland and Sandisfield; Littleville Reservoir in Chester and Huntington, Norwich Pond in Huntington, Pontoosuc Lake, Onota Lake, Big Pond in Otis and Windsor Pond in Windsor.

Support our journalism. Subscribe today. →

Keystone Arch bridges receive landmark designation

Two keystone arch bridges located within MassWildlife’s Walnut Hill Wildlife Management Area (WMA) in Middlefield and Becket were recently designated as National Historic Landmarks by the U.S. Department of Interior (DOI). Soaring above the West Branch of the Westfield River, the bridges are an intact segment of the country’s first railroad built to pass over a mountain. The two bridges are part of a series of area stone railroad bridges built for the Western Railroad that ran from Boston to Albany.

Major George Washington Whistler is credited with the design and implementation of an unprecedented plan to extend the rail through the central Berkshires by spanning the West Branch of the Westfield River in multiple locations. With only 2,500 National Historic Landmarks in the entire country, this prestigious designation recognizes the structures’ significant place in United States history. The federal designation was the result of a combined effort of cultural and conservation partners. An application for Landmark designation to the DOI was filed in 2013 by the Friends of the Keystone Arches and the Wild and Scenic Westfield River Committee with a unanimous endorsement by MassWildlife’s Fisheries and Wildlife Board.

Anyone willing to do a little hiking can experience some spectacular examples of architecture and railroad history in a beautiful natural setting. In addition to the arches, visitors can enjoy the state’s longest free flowing waterway situated in one of the largest blocks of undeveloped landscapes in the region.

The West Branch of the Westfield River, a National Wild and Scenic River, is popular among anglers fishing for wild and stocked trout and for experienced kayakers paddling the river rapids. The WMA includes exemplary forested communities of northern woodlands, rich mesic forest, and hickory-hop hornbeam in various stages of growth. Walnut Hill WMA offers excellent opportunities for deer, bear and turkey hunting. Wildlife viewing prospects include forest-dwelling birds such as thrushes, warblers and woodpeckers. Minks and otters patrol the waterways along with aquatic insects; mayflies, damselflies and dragonflies. Several state-listed species of rare plants and insects have also been documented on the property.

In an era of human and horsepower, construction of the 150-mile railroad was completed by 3,000 laborers in an incredible two and a half years, opening in 1841. The group of arched bridges located near and within the remote 900-plus acre Walnut Hill WMA can be accessed via the 2.5-mile one-way Keystone Arch Bridge Trail in Chester. The trail is maintained by the Friends of the Keystone Arches with the permission of MassWildlife. The nearby Chester Factory Village Depot in Chester was also granted National Historic Landmark status. Visitors can stop by the Western Railroad museum in Chester to learn more about the national engineering marvel that the bridges represented at the time.

MassWildlife’s mission to protect wildlife lands across the state has been remarkably successful. Thanks to an unusual partnership, at Walnut Hill WMA the conserved land and water comes with a spectacular added cultural benefit, sure to be appreciated by all who visit.

For me, the area surrounding these keystone arch bridges evokes fond memories. I caught my first trout with a fly that I had tied near one of them. I caught it on a wet fly (Gold Ribbed Hares Ear) in the late 1970’s a little below Bancroft near the first arch. Some years after that, when MassWildlife was raising and stocking salmon fry into the West Branch of the Westfield River, Taconic Chapter of Trout Unlimited volunteers trudged the river below these arches stocking them. Paul Ouellette and his late brother Homer took on this difficult assignment, when they were probably in their 70’s, even though the remoteness of the area made assistance in the event of a mishap unlikely. That’s around the time that my wife Jan led some hikes along the Keystone Bridges Trail which parallels the river from Chester to Bancroft.

The last time I visited that area was about five years ago when my good friend, Fred Rugo from Rhode Island, came to the Berkshires to fly fish with me one summer day. After fishing the Westfield and Housatonic Rivers, he asked if I could take him to see these arches before he headed home.

He had heard about them in Rhode Island. We parked at the trailhead in Chester and hiked up to see them. I’ll never forget it, for below the first of the double arches were two pre-teen lads fishing. Even though it was a hot day and no respectable fish should have been biting, they hoisted up to show us two beautiful rainbow trout they had caught. On the way back to our car, both Fred and I remarked on what a wonderful sight it was to see those youngsters and how it reminded us of our own younger days.

Gene Chague can be reached at berkwoodsandwaters@roadrunner.com or 413-637-1818.

Gene Chague is a longtime sportsman and editor of The Eagle's Berkshire Woods and Waters outdoors column.