“Taconic Trail” is the name of Route 2 as it passes up and over Petersburg Pass. Another way to get over the Taconic Mountains was Berlin Mountain Road (sometimes known as Bee Hill and sometimes as Torrey Woods roads), which was designated in 1799 as the Williamstown Turnpike, a segment of the way from Boston to Albany. The Petersburg Pass route beat out the Berlin Pass route for vehicular traffic in modern times, which has left the Berlin way for foot traffic.
To get to Berlin Road, by any name, turn west on Route 2 where it departs from Route 7 south of Williamstown center. Take the first left downhill, then straight where Oblong departs left and where Treadwell Hollow Road bears right. Keep going past the last houses. The pullover is on your left, or continue to the end of the travelled road to the main parking lot.
In 1960, Williams College took over the largely abandoned west end of the road at the New York line for its downhill ski area. Even though the area held snow well, low snow winters forced the move for manmade snow, in 1980, to Brodie Mountain and later to Jiminy Peak. It may also have been that the Berlin slope was too steep for faster metal skis. It is rumored that a ski jump still stands, deep in the woods now.
The road, which continues to Berlin, New York, was used by the fire observer when there was a tower on Berlin Mountain. It was used by a local family for the commercial harvest of blueberries on the Taconic crest. And it was used as access to a cabin located near the pass. More recently the area went downhill, taken over by four-wheelers, dirt bikes, parties and beer cans. The stretch of Berlin Road past the parking lot is becoming deeply rutted, to the point where most of those vehicles couldn’t drive it.
Over a year ago an effort began to reclaim the end of the road as the Berlin Mountain Recreation Area. New York State and Massachusetts were involved, together with Williams College, Williamstown and Williamstown Rural Lands Foundation (WRLF), the Berkshire Natural Resources Council and private landowners. WRLF had hired Dan Gura, a recent Williams grad, as Lands and Trails Coordinator, and the town, through its Conservation Commission, joined the effort, financially and with crews. Last spring the DPW redid the gravel road to the old ski area and the parking area. Gura, the WRLF Trails Committee and other volunteers improved trails and, crucially, signage and blazes, for the trails are numerous.
One of those trails was established by the class of 1933, climbing to the Berlin Mountain summit. The Williams Outing club constructed a cabin and outhouse partway up, in a hemlock grove, along a branch of Hemlock Brook. Access was across private property, which the then landowner rescinded in the face of parties at the site. The cabin was demolished, leaving only the battered remains of the outhouse for many years.
In fact, the kiosk by the pullover specifies no camping. That wording will have to change. Gura and friends have worked spring and summer to create a camping area where the old cabin stood. One of those friends is town resident Eddie Brannan, who built a new outhouse as a Scout project (it may not be in service yet). Other amenities include two cleared and mostly leveled tent sites, and a cast iron firepit with nearby table. The town and Fields Pond Foundation paid for the materials. The site is about a half-mile in from the pullover. (Note that the trailhead is a few hundred feet down Berlin Road from the pullover.)
The next major project is scheduled for summer 2021, when the Greenagers, high school youth from Great Barrington, will reroute the lower end of what was Berlin Road that continues up and over Berlin Pass. The project is the result of a successful Recreational Trails grant through the state’s Department of Conservation and Recreation. At present the former road-turned-trail ends in a large mud puddle.
Gura says that he is also looking at other trail improvements, adding switchbacks for example, to decrease erosion on the steeper ones. “Many of our trails were built on old roads,” he points out, which can, like the Berlin Road Trail, “be unsustainable.”
The public is invited to explore this newly refurbished recreation area, whether on foot or mountain bike, or on skis in the winter. Unlike past years, the road will be plowed all the way to the main lot. There are perhaps a dozen trails, some to the summit of Berlin Mountain, the tallest in New York State outside of the Adirondacks or the Catskills, or at lower elevations. The kiosks, signs and blazes both direct and comfort.
Happy trails to you.