Lauren R. Stevens | Hikes & Walks: Walk through history at Hopkins Memorial Forest

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Amos Lawrence Hopkins, railroad tycoon and son of Williams College renowned president Mark Hopkins, aggregated modest holdings at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th in order to create a gentleman's farm on Northwest Hill Road in Williamstown. Some of the town's most popular hiking trails cross his former estate, which is now managed by the college's Center for Environmental Studies as a 2,600-acre experimental forest.

Buxton Farms, as he called it, was an agricultural show place, overseen for many years by Arthur and Ella Rosenburg, for whom the college's classroom facilities, in the former carriage barn, are named. The main house, near the road, was demolished.

Maybe you should try a Moon-light walk. Adelia Moon and her husband, Andrew Jackson Moon, lived off the land in the midst of what Hopkins later acquired. When her husband died, she remarried another Moon, her nephew Alfred. He refused Hopkins' offers buy their farm. The holdout was immortalized by the town's American Revolution Bicentennial project, when Peter McChesney, other Williams students and townspeople dismantled Mr. Moon's barn and reassembled it near the Rosenburg Center as an agricultural museum. The Moon house no longer exists.

Col. Hopkins died in 1912. His widow gave Buxton Farms to the college in 1934. The college deeded it to the U.S. Forest Service as a research facility. The Forest Service, having established research plots, turned the land back to the college in 1968. Williams has increased the holdings by buying, finally, the Moon lot — which had passed to the Primmer family — and others, as well as receiving gifts of land. It now includes land in New York and Vermont. The college continues the same research plots and other Forest Service studies, which explains the caution given to hikers to stay on the trails — and the colorful ribbons off in the woods.

Bulkley Street turns off Route 7 just north of where Route 2 departs Route 7 at Field Park. Follow up Bulkley to the end; then right on Northwest Hill Road and immediately left into the Hopkins Memorial Forest parking.

The main trail is about a three-mile loop, which can be abbreviated to 1.75 miles. Or call it a figure eight, with an eastern and a western loop. In addition, the Birch Brook trail from the western loop climbs 1.4 miles steeply to the Taconic Crest Trail. About 1.5-miles north on the TCT will take you to a short trail that leads to the Snow Hole, a place where the hillside slipped, opening up a crevice in whose depth snow sometimes lasts into the summer. Another short trail from the west loop leads to Northwest Hill Road. A trail that used to lead into the Moon lot is no longer maintained. A 1.5-mile trail, from across Northwest Hill Road, descends along Ford Glen, through the old Boys Club camp and to the Hoosic River at the former Wire Bridge Farm.

Philosophically you might prefer to climb the steep and descend the moderate. Therefore begin beside the Moon barn, then follow left on the east loop at the first intersection. Note that informative panels describing the ecology seen from various points, including at that corner, of a watershed. Here you enter the Birch Brook drainage. About .25-miles along you pass the main gauging station, a weir installed by the Civilian Conservation Corps to help study the nature of the flow. Trout, small ones, live in Birch Brook.

After crossing Birch Brook, the trail climbs steeply, where the brook itself has etched a chasm just off trail. It swings to the north, still rising, until it begins a sharp descent. Near the bottom, beyond a bridge, the Birch Brook Trail intersects to follow the north nranch of the brook. Your trail turns east, circumnavigating the Moon lot, and descending gradually the rest of the way to the trailhead. The first left is a horse trail to Northwest Hill Road; take the second, which leads you gently past the canopy walk, the weather station, sugar shack, Outing Club cabin and back to the Rosenburg Center.

You can meditate on Col. Hopkins and his wife, if you wish, or ponder the continuance of subsistence agriculture — mostly berries at the end — well into the 20th century, largely because of a stubborn Moon.

Happy trails to you.

Lauren R. Stevens 9s author of "50 Hikes in the Berkshire Hills," Countryman Press/WW Norton, 2016.


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