Bernard A. Drew |Our Berkshires: A loop around Benedict Pond

GREAT BARRINGTON — We walked in Beartown State Forest on July 4. Our mission was twofold: enjoy the woods and informally evaluate a Department of Conservation & Recreation brochure for the self-guided, interpretive Benedict Pond Loop Trail. Our qualifications? None except we have walked or skied this 1.7-mile trail several times before.

The brochure gives a crisp, accurate overview of 35-acre Benedict Pond, which is at its deepest eight feet. The small pond on Fred Benedict's farm was enlarged in the 1930s when Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) recruits shaped new recreation facilities. They built a concrete dam to enlarge the pond. When we were here a few years back, water had been drawn down during dam reconstruction, and a forest of red maple stumps had emerged after being beneath water for decades. They are now underwater again.

Traction millionaire Fred Pearson of Great Barrington had acquired several thousand acres of Beartown land, intending to create a game preserve. His death on the Lusitania in 1915 ended that plan. Warren H. Davis of Great Barrington, a remarkable black entrepreneur, purchased the land then soon sold it to the commonwealth at a loss but retained cutting rights for a decade. So he made out just fine.

DCR has established a dozen points around the lake to point out natural history. We parked near the boat ramp, secured a parking pass (due to our "seniority" status, it was a $10 pass good forever). We ascended the trail/road.

The first marker (1) is designated Mammals. We saw none, and this is not a failure of the brochure writers. It's not widely known, but of the animal staff at state forest works on rotation on holidays. It was a day off for the chipmunk pictured on the flyer.

At the Mountain Laurel (2) marker, we found several of the flowers just past their peak.We crossed the Appalachian Trail (3) and could have followed that northerly, but rather opted to continue on the old dirt road roadway. The trail so far was hacked out by the CCC. The brochure notes the AT was the inspiration of forester and planner Benton Mackaye and was also created in the 1930s, largely by volunteers. The brochure might have noted that Mackaye and his brother Percy several times visited Monterey, where their sister Hazel lived at Gould Farm.

Improved, not built

We missed marker (4), for northern white cedar, paying more attention to other things beside the trail. We came to a crossroad. Marker (5) notes the work of the CCC, but the brochure is misleading when it says, "The road you are walking on was built by the CCC. Look for their rustic stone work." This old road, where we turned north, is actually an old town road that the CCC improved, but did not originate. Their work definitely is to be seen along the way: basins and culverts, a bridge and remnants of a dam among them. The Loop goes north; if you follow the road south you come out at Blue Hill Road.

The brochure omits mention of a cellarhole, the old Bela Judd farmstead, which might have earned more exploration but for the potential of deer ticks.

Northern hardwood forest (6), the next point on the map, is a mix of American beech, white ash, birch and maples, with (though the brochure doesn't say so) pine and hemlock thrown in for good measure. With our recent rain, the forest was damp and happy. It was hard to miss the rock outcrop (7); several silly hemlocks have their toes precariously rooted at the edge as their trunks soar skyward. Marker(8) is for beaver. We didn't see any beaver, but we saw one lodge and several thoroughly gnawed trees.

Maidenhair fern (9) is only one of the several fern species to be found in these woods. We still encountered no chipmunks or other mammals, but Donna saw movement out of the corner of her eye and pointed to what is surely the world's smallest frog, maybe 3/8 inch in length, hopping and hoping to get across the path before anyone stepped on it. It was dark in camouflage with spots on its back.

Some nature staff was on duty at the outer edge of the pond. An ill-advised dragonfly skittered down to the water then beat its wings in an attempt to take off. I went for a stick to give it a lift, there was a plop and the dragonfly disappeared. Pond fish (10), according to the brochure.

The next marker was rather self-evident: Wetland (11) as we crossed wooden foot bridges in what is described as Nature's filtering system of nutrient-absorbing plants. We walked through the edge of the camping area; most of the sites were claimed for the holiday. Some had fires going and good smells the result.

Retaining wall and dam (12) is the last item on the loop. We passed a trio (human) fishing for bass and an octet (Canada goose) foraging for grass before we reached the small beach.

All in all, a fine walk in the woods.

Bernard A. Drew is a regular Eagle contributor.


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