Lauren R. Stevens | Hikes and Walks: New bridge makes Dunbar Brook Trail

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The Dunbar Brook hike is almost entirely in Franklin County only because, inexplicably, the town of Monroe takes a northern bite out of the Berkshire town of Florida. If you like strolling beside a lovely mountain brook through a centuries-old forest, then you, too, will celebrate the recent replacement of the bridge over that brook — regardless of which county it is in.

The bridge, which saves wading that is challenging in high water, had been out since Tropical Storm Irene. The Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation worked with the Appalachian Mountain Club to replace it. Materials were flown in by helicopter for on-site construction. I wish I'd been there, but glad I've been since.

The hike beside the brook and back, trailhead to Main Road, is about eight miles, with a 700-foot elevation gain. There are a couple of steep stretches, so classify it moderate. The trail is a cooperative venture of MADCR and Great River Hydro, which owns the hydroelectric facilities on the Deerfield River — of which Dunbar Brook is a tributary.

Do not follow the wooden walkway, which is gated at the dam. Instead, climb farther up the hill to the trail, which takes off to the right (blazed blue). You're looking down at the backwater behind the dam as the trail gradually descends through hemlocks. Come May, the spring ephemerals are profuse. After one slight rerouting, you come to the Smith Hollow Trail heading steeply up the hillside. Instead, turn right to cross the recycled-plastic bridge.

Then follow left, along the brook, listening to the rushing water, through wide-open hemlock and yellow birch. After a half-hour or so you come to the Haley Brook bridge, which was knocked down by a falling tree this past summer. Across the bridge is a three-sided shelter and privy. Your best crossing bet is a hundred yards or so upstream at a shallow place. That works out because the trail itself, now a carting road, turns right at the shelter.

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You are now moving away from, and upslope from the brook. The next landmark is a cut, somewhat overgrown, for power lines. Then you cross the bridge for another tributary, Parsonage Brook. You are now skirting the largest section of old growth forest in the Commonwealth, some 270 acres. Some of the pines soar over 140 feet.

In several places you descend toward the brook again, noticing the gneiss boulders polished by the water, some very large. And as you move upslope, the trail passes between large, moss-covered boulders and magnificent hemlock. You come out on the paved, but lightly traveled Main Road. You will want to drop down to the bridge where Raycroft Road comes out. This is a wonderful area to explore and the perfect site for a picnic — with the only reservation that, due to being close to the road, sometimes it collects trash. On the north side of the brook, follow blue blazes to the old millrace, but notice that this is not the Dunbar Book Trail, for which you have to backtrack a couple hundred feet up Main Road.

You can extend the hike by climbing Smith Hollow Trail to Raycroft Extension Road. Turning left there takes you to Raycroft Lookout, a Civilian Conservation Corps project with a splendid view of the Deerfield Valley. Turning right takes you on Raycroft (off-road vehicle) Road to the Main Road. You can vary that by taking the Spruce Mountain Trail. There is no view from the peak, but an excellent one from a wire cut on the way. Via Raycroft Road to Main Road and looping back by Dunbar Brook Trail, is 12.5 miles, with over 1,000 feet in elevation gain.

Follow Route 2 on the Mohawk Trail east from North Adams. To spot a car on the Main Road in Monroe, if you want to abbreviate the hike, turn left at the Fire Station. To get to the recommended starting point, beyond Whitcomb Summit bear left and then immediately right on Whitcomb Hill Road. At the T with River Road, turn left, passing through the village of Hoosac Tunnel, by the eastern portal of that tunnel and the Bear Swamp Visitors Center to a trailhead on the left, across from the Dunbar Brook Picnic Area.

We have been blessed with fine autumn weather. In the hope that it continues, be sure to get out. The needle-carpeted trail along Dunbar Brook beckons.

Happy trails to you.


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