trail skirts along a river

The trail skirts the remains of a dam and headrace that served the town’s first factory.

This is a tale of trail-making under difficult conditions.

volunteers work on a trail

Volunteers remove some invasive and plant native species along the lengthy built-up treadway.

It’s a short tale and trail, not much more than a quarter-mile, running along the scenic Green River from Water Street, passing remains of the water system for Williamstown’s first factory, to Main Street (Route 2). Potentially, it joins two segments of the town’s Linear Park that are separated by East Lawn Cemetery and Route 2, the south end with a well-used playground and picnic area, and the north end, with a complex of trails, corn field, the Spruces recreation area and, under construction, a bike path. In other words, a trail that can knit together the eastern end of town.

Mass Trails and the town’s Community Preservation Act funded the project. Additional dominoes: when Mass Department of Transportation rebuilds the Walley Bridge over the Green in the next few years, it will create a pedestrian and wildlife way underneath Route 2. Possibly in the future, a trail will extend beside the Green, one side or the other, to the confluence with the Hoosic. Another proposal would create a trail from the south end across town and horse farm land along the Green to meet a foot bridge the developer of Cable Mills housing has considered putting in.

In the meanwhile, you can walk out-and-back on the newly constructed trail. There will soon be a kiosk to mark the beginning. From Route 2 in Williamstown turn onto Route 43, known as Water Street. Linear Park, with a sign, is just across from a municipal parking lot. There are also eight or 10 parking places along the park road. Descend the trail beside the river, on wooden framed stairs.

Townies and college kids swim in this section of the Green although, as a sign points out, the Hoosic River Watershed Association—the same group that made the trail — is trying to track sources of the biological pollution that comes from two of the pipes you see across the way. The trail gradually rises beneath pines. Soon you come to the man-made portions, gravel held in by wood four-by-fours to provide footing in an area of steep bank and seepage. Two crews from the Student Conservation Association and many hours of volunteer labor battled the mud to complete the work this fall.

Rather than forest, in these unstable conditions the trail passes through invasive species, especially knot weed. After many of these plants were removed, last Saturday more volunteers planted native species that like the wet in order to hold the bank and improve the views of the fast-moving river.

trail follows green river in williamstown

The new trail follows the scenic Green River in Williamstown.

Eventually, the trail returns to natural footing. The river demonstrates its muscle power by the collection of trees and other debris stored below the trail and in back of a rock ledge that was once the basis for a dam that served the Walley Mill. Richard Happel’s “Notes and Footnotes” column in the July 9, 1975 Berkshire Eagle, explains that this was part of the aqueduct that carried water to the mill, dating to 1826, which was on the north side of the road. Small industries existed earlier, of course, but Stephen Walley and other owners created the first with water-power-driven machines and large numbers of employees. It wove textiles, yarns and thread, until it burned down, Feb. 26, 1883.

You can pass underneath the headrace to the front lawn of East Lawn Cemetery and hence, following its road, back to the trailhead. The trail, however, skirts the masonry on the river side (even though that may not look possible). Then follow through some scrub trees to Route 2.

You can see now how the pedestrian passage under the bridge will tie in. For now, you may choose to continue across Route 2 at the crosswalk, turn right on the sidewalk and then left by the town tennis court, to access the northern Linear Park trails, the Spruces and bike path. Or you can walk back to your car on the cemetery road. Or, recommended, retrace your footsteps along the new trail, to take in again the rewards of a riverside walk and more fully assess the amount of labor expended to grant you a firm treadway.

Happy trails to you.

Lauren R. Stevens is author of “50 Hikes in the Berkshire Hills,” Countryman Press/W.W. Norton, 2016.