Lauren R. Stevens | Hikes & Walks: Once atop Mount Greylock, take a walk around to see more than the views

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You can hike, drive, bike or roller ski to the 3,491-foot summit of Mount Greylock. Once you are there, by whatever means, you can look around. Certainly, look out for the views, but also explore the summit itself. A summit tour makes a nice walk.

Roads to the summit include Rockwell, past the Visitors Center, from the south and Notch, out of North Adams, from the north. Greylock Road, from New Ashford, is open but a low-slung vehicle, like a Prius, would be better advised to take the paved roads. The fee for parking at the summit appears to have been waived this summer.                    

The War Memorial Tower is the unavoidable starting place. At present closed due to COVID-19, the inscription over the door tells how people hoped that after the horrors of World War I the world would turn to peace. That didn't quite work out. The tower, built in 1932, is now the commonwealth's official memorial to those lost in all wars, the center of a three-quarters-of-a-mile-radius War Memorial Park. The story that the tower was a lighthouse moved inland is mountain myth, although it was designed by a company that also designed lighthouses. The 92-foot tower is surmounted by a beacon visible afar, but not from Boston Harbor.

The mood inside the tower is meditative, set by poetry inscribed in the walls. That's helpful, because the summit is a very active place, with people coming and going and even jumping off on hang gliders. A narrow spiral staircase takes you to an enclosed platform, with near 100-mile views once you regain your equilibrium.

The lodge was named in honor John Bascom, a Greylock Reservation Commissioner and Williams College professor, who had long called for that amenity but died before it was built. Commissioners began the west wing (no, not the West Wing) in 1932. The Civilian Conservation Corps completed the central portion and east wing 1935-38. Local architect Joseph Vance designed a building similar to lodges at National Parks; materials were primarily schist and red spruce mined on the mountain.

Your host for meals and accommodations is now the Bascom Lodge Group, in partnership with the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation's Historic Curatorship Program.

You won't be surprised to learn that the Thunderbolt Ski Shelter, less obvious since it's below the level of the parking lot, was also designed by Vance in a similar rustic style. The CCC built it in 1940 to serve as a warming hut for skiers using the Thunderbolt Trail. A resurgence of interest in skiing the Thunderbolt culminated in the 75th anniversary event of February 2010 that commemorated the first downhill race on Mount Greylock on February 17, 1935. The Thunderbolt Ski Runners' attempt to continue races have been hampered by lack of snow. The shelter has been named for Rudolph Konieczny, "KIA in the Appenine mountains of northern Italy while fighting with the 10th Mountain Division (ski troops) in World War II." It, too, is closed this summer.

The most surprising of the summit's man-made features, perhaps, is the broadcast tower. Its story is bizarre. Entrepreneurs at a Pittsfield radio station decided to crash into the television age with WMGT (Mount Greylock Television). They acquired permission to put a 200-foot tower, built by GE, on the summit, arguing that it would tie the county together. That also meant a for-profit business would, ah, decorate and benefit from public land. WMGT began broadcasting in 1954. In 1956, the tower iced up and a heavy wind brought it down. Insurance paid to re-erect the tower, but WMGT was down for the count. Capital Cities, Albany, bought the station, renamed it WCDC, and a private, out-of-state company became the beneficiary of Massachusetts public land. More recently, Northeast Public Radio, WAMC Albany, purchased the tower.

A smaller communications tower rises off the end of the lodge. It and some antennae inside the attic of the building are used by various government agencies. If the president were to visit this area, communication would be routed through the lodge. Occasionally a radio club from RPI sets up an antenna, through which it can talk to people around the world. One more building, a garage, sits behind the lodge, together with an array of solar-powered composting toilets. Nearby stands a trailer used by a UMass acid rain study.

Henry David Thoreau's July 1844 trip hike and overnight on the mountain is commemorated by three plaques bearing quotations from his first book, "A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers." One is an attempt to stave off anxiety about getting lost; two relates to the gorgeous sunrise above the clouds he observed the following morning. Another inscription carved in stone beside a trail quotes 19th century English art critic John Ruskin: "Mountains seem to have been built for the human race, as at once their schools and their cathedrals."

The good news: it isn't necessary to clip this column and take it with you on your next visit to the highest point in southern New England. The summit is thoroughly interpreted, with tours led by rangers and panels that show what you see when you look out and when you look in. Not only the man-made features are explained: several panels describe the natural features, such as the boreal spruce-fir forest. As the shrill whistle of the white-throated sparrow proclaims, nature persists.

Happy trails to you.

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

The War Memorial Tower is the unavoidable starting place. At present closed due to COVID-19, the inscription over the door tells how people hoped that after the horrors of World War I the world would turn to peace. That didn't quite work out. The tower, built in 1932, is now the commonwealth's official memorial to those lost in all wars, the center of a three-quarters-of-a-mile-radius War Memorial Park. The story that the tower was a lighthouse moved inland is mountain myth, although it was designed by a company that also designed lighthouses. The 92-foot tower is surmounted by a beacon visible afar, but not from Boston Harbor.

The mood inside the tower is meditative, set by poetry inscribed in the walls. That's helpful, because the summit is a very active place, with people coming and going and even jumping off on hang gliders. A narrow spiral staircase takes you to an enclosed platform, with near 100-mile views once you regain your equilibrium.

The lodge was named in honor John Bascom, a Greylock Reservation Commissioner and Williams College professor, who had long called for that amenity but died before it was built. Commissioners began the west wing (no, not the West Wing) in 1932. The Civilian Conservation Corps completed the central portion and east wing 1935-38. Local architect Joseph Vance designed a building similar to lodges at National Parks; materials were primarily schist and red spruce mined on the mountain.

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Your host for meals and accommodations is now the Bascom Lodge Group, in partnership with the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation's Historic Curatorship Program.

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You won't be surprised to learn that the Thunderbolt Ski Shelter, less obvious since it's below the level of the parking lot, was also designed by Vance in a similar rustic style. The CCC built it in 1940 to serve as a warming hut for skiers using the Thunderbolt Trail. A resurgence of interest in skiing the Thunderbolt culminated in the 75th anniversary event of February 2010 that commemorated the first downhill race on Mount Greylock on February 17, 1935. The Thunderbolt Ski Runners' attempt to continue races have been hampered by lack of snow. The shelter has been named for Rudolph Konieczny, "KIA in the Appenine mountains of northern Italy while fighting with the 10th Mountain Division (ski troops) in World War II." It, too, is closed this summer.

The most surprising of the summit's man-made features, perhaps, is the broadcast tower. Its story is bizarre. Entrepreneurs at a Pittsfield radio station decided to crash into the television age with WMGT (Mount Greylock Television). They acquired permission to put a 200-foot tower, built by GE, on the summit, arguing that it would tie the county together. That also meant a for-profit business would, ah, decorate and benefit from public land. WMGT began broadcasting in 1954. In 1956, the tower iced up and a heavy wind brought it down. Insurance paid to re-erect the tower, but WMGT was down for the count. Capital Cities, Albany, bought the station, renamed it WCDC, and a private, out-of-state company became the beneficiary of Massachusetts public land. More recently, Northeast Public Radio, WAMC Albany, purchased the tower.

A smaller communications tower rises off the end of the lodge. It and some antennae inside the attic of the building are used by various government agencies. If the president were to visit this area, communication would be routed through the lodge. Occasionally a radio club from RPI sets up an antenna, through which it can talk to people around the world. One more building, a garage, sits behind the lodge, together with an array of solar-powered composting toilets. Nearby stands a trailer used by a UMass acid rain study.

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Henry David Thoreau's July 1844 trip hike and overnight on the mountain is commemorated by three plaques bearing quotations from his first book, "A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers." One is an attempt to stave off anxiety about getting lost; two relates to the gorgeous sunrise above the clouds he observed the following morning. Another inscription carved in stone beside a trail quotes 19th century English art critic John Ruskin: "Mountains seem to have been built for the human race, as at once their schools and their cathedrals."

The good news: it isn't necessary to clip this column and take it with you on your next visit to the highest point in southern New England. The summit is thoroughly interpreted, with tours led by rangers and panels that show what you see when you look out and when you look in. Not only the man-made features are explained: several panels describe the natural features, such as the boreal spruce-fir forest. As the shrill whistle of the white-throated sparrow proclaims, nature persists.

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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