Thom Smith: Appalachian Mountain Club day hikes guide well worth getting

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The Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) has published a new book by a local author: "AMC's Best Day Hikes in the Berkshires" by René Laubach; Second Edition; 288 pages, paperback, $18.95.

Having written dozens of feature articles on hiking (and kayaking) in The Berkshires from Sheffield, Mass. to Whitingham, Vt., I must admit I was not endowed from birth with an inherent knowledge of the best hiking (and paddling) trails. One of my primary sources for discovering new places to visit has been AMC'S "Best Day Hikes in the Berkshires [in Western Massachusetts]" by René Laubach.

The first edition opened up a wealth of not only places — 50 as the title promises — to spend a day (or less) exploring on foot or snowshoe, with a summary of what to expect, trip time, distance and most importantly for someone retired, like myself, the trip's level of difficulty.

The much anticipated second edition is for all ability levels and seasons and includes 10 entirely new routes, and is ideal for families, nature lovers, and hiking enthusiasts. As Becky Cushing, director of Mass Audubon's Berkshire Sanctuaries said, "If you own just one guide to hiking in the Berkshires, this should be it. Laubach goes beyond simple trail directions and offers an expert window into the natural and human history of each place."

From Mountain Meadow Preserve in Pownal, Vt., and Williamstown, Mass., south to Bartholomew's Cobble in Sheffield, Mass., Sages Ravine and Bear Mountain in Mount Washington, Mass., and Salisbury, Conn., these 50 jaunts offer a wide variety of outings whether you are a local or a visitor looking for a short walk or a day-long adventure regardless of the season. These hikes are divided into three sections, Northern Berkshires (17 trips including Berlin Mountain, Field Farm Reservation, Hopper Trail to Mount Greylock and others); Central Berkshires (16 trips including Ashuwillticook Rail Trail, Old Mill Trail, Stevens Glen and others); and Southern Berkshires (17 trips including Ice Glen and Laura's Tower, Jug End State Reservation, Lime Kiln Farm Wildlife Sanctuary, and others).

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As one would expect in such an endeavor, location and directions are included, but new to this edition are GPS coordinates to the trailhead of each site. The detailed maps showing parking and picnic areas, trails, brooks, natural highlights, and scenic overlooks when applicable, make for a safer and more enjoyable outing.

Of particular interest to this local writer are 10 of Laubach's essays on nature and history of the region relating to what you might see along the trails you hike. Titles like "Old-Growth Champions" tell of ancient trees along The Hopper Trail (Trip 8), Bash Bish (Trip 44), Mount Race (Trip 45), Mount Everett (Trip 46), Alander Mountain (Trip 47), and Sages Ravine and Bear Mountain (Trip 50). Another, "Pine Cone Johnnies," muses the work of the Great Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), which built countless trails, ponds, and dams, various park facilities, and noteworthy structures such as Bascom Lodge atop Mount Greylock. Other essays include "Pool Party", and "Feeding the Fires of Industry", and "Trail Tribulations" to mention a few.

While the Appalachian Mountain Club, publisher of this impressive guide is responsible for 1,800 miles of trails, its Berkshire Chapter is involved in conservation and trail maintenance efforts in the region.

My advice for hikers, even if you are a long time resident, is to get this latest edition, especially if you have children and a dog; the At-A-Glance Trip Planner shows pictorially if trails are kid-friendly or allow dogs, in addition to which are good in season for snowshoeing, or X-C skiing. Round-trip distance and elevation gain, fee (most do not charge), rating (easy, moderate, strenuous), location and trip highlights are also included.

Laubach retired in 2014 from Mass Audubon's Berkshire Sanctuaries, which he directed for nearly 30 years and has authored seven books on natural history and outdoor subjects including "AMC's Best Day Hikes in Connecticut" (2007, 2013), "Audubon Guide to National Wildlife Refuges New England" (2000), "Nature Walks in Connecticut" (1999) He has also as written for (and I imagine continues to) AMC Outdoors, Audubon, Sanctuary and other publications. He lives in Becket, Mass.

Thom Smith welcomes your questions and comments. Email him at Naturewatch@live.com or write him care of The Berkshire Eagle, 75 South Church St., Pittsfield, MA 01201.


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