Lauren R. Stevens | Hikes and Walks: Forging and sharing tracks at Mountain Meadow Preserve

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Deer, dogs, snowshoers, cross-country skiers, walkers, all-terrain vehicles — lots of tracks appear on the snow-covered trails of the Pownal, Vermont portion of Mountain Meadow Preserve.

Are all the uses compatible?

Well, The Trustees of Reservations, which owns the property, limits it to passive uses, so the ATV is not welcome. It messes up the trails for everyone else. In fact, even mountain bikes are excluded. Deer and a myriad of smaller wild animals are not a problem.

So, the question comes down to, can cross-country skiers, snowshoers and walkers co-exist on the roughly four miles of trails, some not on TTOR property, connected to the northern portion? And would an answer for Mountain Meadow hold for other properties?

To get to the Vermont portion of Mountain Meadow, follow Route 7 north from the center of Williamstown, cross a bridge over the Hoosic River and the railroad tracks, turn right on North Hoosac Road and then left on White Oaks Road. The road turns to gravel entering Vermont. Continue past the Broad Brook and Dome trailheads, swinging left where the Old Military Road (unplowed) goes straight, and straight where White Oaks Road bears right, onto Benedict Road. The TTOR trailhead and parking (usually plowed) is on your left.

Other entrances exist. The ATV, for instance, appears to have entered across adjacent private property. A trail connects the north Mountain Meadow with the south — accessible from Mason Street in Williamstown. There are additional ways onto the property from Benedict Road and its extension. But most users park in the lot and share an entrance trail that passes the kiosk. Their passing is written in the snow. Stop at the kiosk to consult the map, understanding that not all the trails are on it.

Round 1: Typically, following a snowstorm, neighbors on snowshoes hike in, which packs the snow. Then come the skiers, often following the snowshoers' line. Thank you, snowshoers. Then come the walkers, following the same line, because the snow isn't as deep in the others' tracks.

Round 2: Skiers like to maintain tracks, so they move to one side of the tracks garbled by the walkers. But now maybe two walkers come, one following the beaten path and the other the ski tracks. Or maybe the snowshoers return wanting to find fresher snow by following the ski tracks. So, adieu to the ski tracks.

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That common entrance trail leads to an inner loop trail, blazed yellow. Lesser trails are blazed blue. Most intersections have helpful signs. Turning left at the top of a slight rise, the main Loop Trail descends just below an intersection. We are still on Broadway, as far as multiple users go. At the next intersection we go straight, with less traffic.

Then, climbing briefly, a choice, both traveled even less. Turn left, climb a rise and then descend to a sharp curve right, with an abyss ahead (skiers take note). Following the edge of the drop-off for a wonderful, long descent, the trail picks up the Kalarama Trail which, in turn, after a long gradual climb, a flat stretch and then a short steep climb, returns to the Mausert's Camp Trail. Or, back at the intersection, turn right on the State Line Trail, a shorter distance and with only slight elevation change, to Mausert's Camp Trail. As the name suggests, much of ground we're covering is in Massachusetts, on Williamstown conservation land called the Deans Lot.

Mausert's Camp Trail, more heavily used, leads up a hill to a stone chimney and an outdoor grill, all that remain of a seasonal cabin that burned 50 years ago. The view south is not what it was, but still, through the trees, reveals the majesty of Mount Greylock.

Skiing back down from Mausert's, then follow the Grace Greylock Niles Trail, the two comprising the former drive to the camp. Turn right at the open field onto the Loop Trail, cross the field, enter the woods. As Yogi Berra is supposed to have said, when you come to a fork, take it. And, in fact, either route will get you back to Vermont Parking, as the signs call the trailhead. If you take the north fork, turn right at the main trail; if you take the south fork, turn left. The Loop Trail returns you.

You know what? This 180-acre property, with more to come, is large enough, the trails diverse enough, that it doesn't really matter about multiple users. Skiers can put up with other forms of locomotion, knowing they only have to go a bit farther to find or make maintained tracks. You know what? That's true on other properties as well.

What's important is that people have the opportunity to get out for people-powered exercise, in the snows of winter, immersed in second growth forest and open fields. Hey, we've already lost January in these parts. Winter is receding. Embrace it while we can.

Or, as Fran ois Villon wrote: "Mais ou sont les neiges d'antan?" Happy trails to you.

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


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