Lauren R. Stevens | Hikes & Walks: Old Williams College ski area a fixable mess

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It's a mess. That is, the network of trails surrounding the former Williams College ski area on Berlin Mountain. Williams, the Town of Williamstown, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, the Massachusetts Department of Conservation & Recreation, Williamstown Rural Lands Foundation, Berkshire Natural Resources Council and three private landowners own portions of this back country, which complicates straightening it out.

Williams students William Keating, Shauna Sullivan and Andrew West spent the fall in an environmental planning class coming up with a management plan, on behalf of WRLF, for the potential Berlin Mountain Recreation Area.

In 1960, then Williams College coach Ralph Townsend established a ski area with an upper downhill course, a lower slalom run, a 25-meter practice jump, and a 45-meter competition jump. Metal skis soon took racers too fast for the narrow course and uncooperative weather sent the competition to areas with snowmaking, first Brodie and then Jiminy Peak. Little maintenance of road or trails, and especially the parking lot, has taken place since.

The cellar hole of Alexander Walker's tollhouse remains near the Berlin saddle of the 1799 Williamstown Turnpike that crosses into New York on its way from the Deerfield Valley to Troy and Albany. Unfortunately this road attracts four-wheelers that have chewed it up and even rutted the ski slope. The parking lot is muddy, with large holes; the trails are so wet as to be inaccessible at times. The area invites trash.

In short, the owners hold an attractive nuisance which, the students say, could be improved with new trails, better marked trails, and more hikers, mountain bikers and skiers. They propose improving the parking lot and transforming it into a trail hub.

The hub would include the `33 Trail, which currently starts a half-mile down the road before climbing to the summit of Berlin Mountain. That trailhead is at the end of the public portion of the road, the rest belonging to Williams College, so town snowplows turn around there. It would be better for the `33 Trail to begin at the parking lot, and even better if town and college agreed that the plow continue to the lot. The confusingly named Turnpike Trail is another that might start at the parking lot rather than near private property with no parking.

With the old and newer Turnpikes, the ski run, the `33 Trail, the WRLF Loop Trail, the Ridge Trail BNRC proposes to climb to Petersburg Mountain, the site could be a regional center for hiking, skiing and biking. The students found numerous old logging roads that might be adaptable for mountain biking.

To get to Berlin Road, take Torrey Woods Road left off the Taconic Trail (Route 2) just above the runaway truck ramp. Go straight at the intersection (road turns to gravel). Bear left where Treadwell Hollow Road veers right. Just keep going — and going. As the students pointed out, signs are needed; you definitely need reassurance when you arrive at the old ski area parking lot.

So the project will take a lot of work and a lot of cooperation between various entities. Still, for those who want to recreate off the beaten path, this could be the spot. 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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