Lauren R. Stevens | Hikes and Walks: BNRC has made hiking The Boulders a breeze

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The Berkshire Natural Resources Council — with just one new trail, three new bridges and a lot of new signs — has made hiking at The Boulders as easy as, well, stepping into your backyard. Because, The Boulders is the backyard to many Pittsfield, Dalton and Cheshire residents.

Crane & Co. acquired the 685-acre rocky, wooded land in the 19th century to protect the water supply for papermaking. At the end of 2015, the Crane family donated the land to BNRC. Since then the land trust has been working to improve the hiker's experience on the property.

The trails are color-coded and numerous signs provide directions. The most direct route to The Boulders, for which the property is named, departs a trailhead on Routes 8/9, across from Hubbard Avenue in Pittsfield. It is blazed blue and extends 2.8 miles (one way). The destination is a vista to the west from the 1,395-foot cobble. The bucolic views are nearer and farther — to the Taconics. Sound of urban neighboring industries can also be heard.

Most hikers will start from Gulf Road, however, across from the Appalachian Trail trailhead. Wisely, BNRC didn't throw out the old trail configuration. Although in some ways illogical, it is dear to numerous users, some of whom may even have created those routes. Rather, the only new trail eases the descent between Gulf Road and valley trails, meaning that you now start out on the Green Trail, which forms a lollypop loop of 1.4 miles but also takes you the 2.4-mile-long Red Trail, for a central circuit of the property.

There is a 0.5 Healthy Heart Trail, from the starting point. Several trails that are not blazed nevertheless usefully show up on the map. One of them remains a segment of the best way to the high point of the property from Gulf Road, via Green to Red to a turnoff that takes you to the Blue near your destination, about two miles. By the way, the trail map doesn't display the routes in their colors.

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But, as with most Berkshire hikes, it isn't necessary always to head to the summit. For example, the Red Trail will take you by a most attractive small pond, as well as by the brook that feeds it. Given the emphasis on the large trees and boulders on the property, it's worthwhile to encounter the wet lowlands as well.

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Still, it will be the towering hemlocks, oaks, beech, maples and other constituents of the northern hardwood forest that draw you back to The Boulders, especially when the autumn paints the leaves. At the higher elevations there is relatively little undergrowth, enabling you to see into the forest, providing another dimension to your views.

The six miles of trails are open to hikers, mountain bikers, skiers and snow-shoers. Dogs are allowed under control and according to local leash laws. No motorized vehicles are allowed. Hunting and fishing are permitted (no hunting on Sunday in Massachusetts).

To get to Gulf Road from Pittsfield and south, take Park Street in Dalton to left past the DPW building. The other end of Gulf Road, a rough drive on gravel, departs Route 8 beside Brook House, across from the State Road entrance to Berkshire Mall. Gulf Road is not plowed in the winter.

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Greylock Ramble Monday

Free shuttles for the 51st Greylock Ramble depart from the Adams Free Library to the trailhead from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Dogs are allowed on the trail but not in the shuttle.

Happy trails to you.

Lauren R. Stevens is author of "50 Hikes in the Berkshire Hills," Countryman Press


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