Lauren R. Stevens | Hikes & Walks: Going for a loop on the Mahican-Mohawk Trail
When photojournalist Elodie Reed asked me to hike an "Indian Loop" in April, I thought: sure, the Mahican-Mohawk Trail in Mohawk Trail State Forest, Charlemont. So we planned a route up to the ridge from the campground, out to the lookout on Todd Mountain and down the backside of the ridge on the M-M Trail. Five-and-one-half miles. We hiked it, we liked it; and having not traveled its entirety previously, I decided to write it up.
Reed was doing research for a series of articles for The Eagle, since published, about how we treat Native American history and presence in our area today. The trail from the campground (and "Indian Spring") is called "The Indian Trail," and the lookout is likewise identified with Native Americans, so there is a traditional association.
More than that, though, there are references, including David Costello's book of historical routes, "The Mohawk Trail." According to his research, the Route 2 automobile route loosely follows the Indian path.
Costello was an engineer on the state's project to improve Route 2 over the Hoosac Range in 1914. He became interested in the older trails and carting paths in the area, and the history that went with them, including the ancient pathway. The current M-M footpath follows his Indian route exactly from Todd to Clark Mountains, along a narrow ridge, and closely the rest of its route in Massachusetts from the Connecticut River to North Adams.
The first half-mile of our hike, from parking the car by the administration building to the trail, is more or less level on asphalt. There is a $5 in-state parking fee in season — covered by a $60 pass for any state park from Walden Pond to the summit of Greylock. The second half-mile, labeled the Indian Trail, is a switchback scramble, steep with not great footing, following blue blazes, up the hillside.
We came to a four-way intersection on the ridge. To the left is the Indian trail Costello authenticated, 3.6 miles to the trailhead on South County Road, Florida (white blazes plus yellow disks). We went right, blue blazes, .75 miles to the Indian Lookout. This section involves climbing some rock surfaces. There are good views of the Cold River valley along the way. The advertised view east into the Deerfield valley is a bit overgrown, although we saw Berkshire East ski area. The story is that the original people, heading east, could check the valley from the lookout to see if friends or foes waited below.
We backtracked to the intersection, turning right for a leisurely, three-mile descent, blazed white and labeled Mahican-Mohawk Trail. According to Costello, this was a carting road that climbed to the ridge and followed the Indian Trail to become South County Road in Florida. We passed through large hemlocks.
We saved for another day a left turn to the Elders Grove, a stand of white pine each over 150-feet in height, named in honor of Native Americans. Numerous trails meet in the fields. We stuck with the ones marked by yellow disks, including the Nature Trail. In view on the hillside are tall pines and ancient trees. Many of the trees in Mohawk State Forest are 200 to 400 years old. Large boulders have tumbled down from the ridge.
We also passed signs of former farming, stone walls and sheep fencing, as we followed along the Deerfield River. The state forest is at the junction of the Cold and Deerfield. Walking in part on a woods road we climbed up and over a ridge to return to our car. The newly christened Indian Loop provides the opportunity to walk in the tracks of those who came before.
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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