Thom Smith | NatureWatch: Everything you need to know about visiting Mount Greylock

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Alec Gillman, the regional interpretive coordinator for the West Region of the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation, recently provided everything I needed about the opening of Mount Greylock's roads to its 3,491-foot summit, and much more about our beautiful state parks:

• Roads to the summit of Mount Greylock: Rockwell Road, from Lanesborough; Notch Road from North Adams; and likely Greylock Road (gravel) from New Ashford opened for the season on Friday, May 17. Roads remain open 24/7 until Nov. 1, mainly because there are overnight guests at Bascom Lodge and campers at the campground on Sperry Road. Be aware that the park interior is technically open to day-use visitors from sunrise to sunset. Also be aware that the roads can close when driving conditions become hazardous, such as the 2013 Memorial Day weekend, when it snowed some 6 inches. Who knows if that might happen again given our recent weather patterns?

Sperry Road is closed to vehicle access because the campground was redesigned as a vehicle-free backpacking campground in 2007 to provide that unique semi-wilderness experience in the state park system, but is still do-able for families with children. Visitors may still hike out to Stony Ledge or other trails from trailheads at the CCC-Dynamite Trailhead and the campground parking lot.

• Entrance to the park and access to all trailheads is free, but there is a per-vehicle (including motorbikes) parking fee for the summit parking lot: $5 for Massachusetts residents, and $10 for non-Massachusetts residents. Let me reiterate — the summit parking lot is the only place they charge on the mountain. There is free parking everywhere else below the summit (but not along Summit Road itself), and folks are welcome to get that valuable exercise and take the brief, rigorous hike to the top.

For frequent state park visitors, (including other state parks that charge a parking fee: i.e. Natural Bridge, Clarksburg, Beartown at Benedict Pond, York Lake, Pittsfield and Tolland) alternatives include purchasing an annual DCR ParksPass: $60 for Massachusetts residents. More information is available at mass.gov/how-to/get-a-parking-pass-for-massachusetts-state-parks. Daily parking fees are waived for vehicles with a handicapped license plate or placard, Purple Heart recipient license plate or placard of a disabled veteran license plate or placard.

WHAT'S NEW AT THE VISITOR CENTER?

Maybe not new overall, but new to those who have never been there before: Frequent and ongoing interpretive programming, hikes and the like, exploring the stories of and experiences you can have on the mountain during your visit. There are engaging exhibits (installed in 2013) that further explore the stories and places on the mountain, including a brief orientation film; the Bill Tague Gallery, featuring Greylock-related photos by Bill Tague, noted Berkshire Eagle photojournalist and passionate conservationist for Mount Greylock in the 1960s; a great place for a picnic with panoramic views south across the Housatonic River Valley; and the Bradley Farm Trail, an easy 1.8-mile loop hike. But best of all — the park staff — present and happy to help visitors connect with the mountain (and a free trail map), able to cater a fulfilling self-guided recreational experience, and get the most out of your time on the hill.

Definitely stop in at the Visitor Center, 30 Rockwell Road, Lanesborough, (413-499-4262) an often-passed-by location as everyone just drives by wanting to get to the top. Here, you can explore (with the help of park staff or self-guided) the many possibilities of discovering those wonderful places in-between, such as Rounds Rock, Jones Nose, Stony Ledge, Wilbur's Clearing, The Hopper, Greylock Glen, etc. Visitors are always pleasantly surprised and rewarded after a visit here, and it's free.

Mount Greylock is one of a series of Western Massachusetts Scenic Byways, visit the website: bywayswestmass.com.

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Historic and popular Bascom Lodge on the summit is confusingly owned by the commonwealth (DCR), but managed and operated independently from DCR by the Bascom Lodge Group — who provides the lodging and dining services (as part of a long-term agreement), but also in partnership with the DCR Historic Curatorship Program to preserve its historic qualities for future generations. Visit www.bascomlodge.net for more information.

The Massachusetts Veterans War Memorial Tower recently (2017) underwent extensive architectural and structural rehabilitation. A visit to this solemn and reflective location is worthy of a visit.                                                                 

NOTABLE HIKE

Visitors to the Mount Greylock reservation and its Memorial Tower seldom think to stop along the Rockwell Road, from Route 7 in Lanesborough, to enjoy the stunning views from Rounds Rock, some 900 feet below the summit. The parking area is 3 miles north of the Visitor Center. Lock the car and, if it isn't windy, consider insect repellent. Almost immediately, you will enter a narrow path meandering at first through cool woods, shaded by beech trees and bordered by moss, ferns and different shades of foliage. You are in the town of Cheshire and will pass through stands of yellow birch, sugar maple and red spruce. Soon, the trees begin to thin and, eventually, you will see the century-old stone marker indicating you are entering New Ashford. Continue a short distance beneath oaks, spruce and mountain ash opening to low-growth barrens.

The rocky overlook, Rounds Rock, is named after Jabez Rounds, a farmer who more than two centuries ago, cleared and cultivated several hundred acres here. Look south and, in the far distance, you will see Bear Mountain in northern Connecticut. To the right, in the west are New York State's Catskill Mountains. Look closer, and you may see Jiminy Peak and in the valley below, two of Berkshire Counties lakes, Onota and Pontoosuc. As you continue the mostly easy mile-long loop, look for an outcrop of gray rock, with 12/7/48 chiseled into it. A path leads to the place where a small twin-engine Cessna, piloted by 22-year-old John Newcomb crashed while transporting copies of the Aug. 13, 1948, New York Daily Mirror to Albany N.Y. The rusted remnants of the ill-fated craft remain. After returning to your car, you should continue on to the summit.

WATERFALLS WORTH VISITING:

The Mount Greylock State Reservation and Greylock Glen have numerous waterfalls and cataracts, four or five are notable, but all are worth exploring. Pecks Brook offers four different waterfalls, and the Falls on Peck's Brook within the War Memorial Park, and the Upper, Middle and Lower Pecks Falls on the Greylock Glen portion of the Mount Greylock Reservation, plus several impressive cascades, are all in store for the intrepid waterfall watcher.

Visit the falls along Peck's Brook, accessible from Route 8, and the center of Adams. Among the more accessible falls to reach on foot is the Upper Falls, not much more than 200 feet from the small parking area. A spectacular and close view of the Greylock War Memorial Tower on the summit can be seen from Gould Road on route to the falls. Here, at the Glen, the vegetation is more like that of the valley with mixed hardwoods, and none of the red spruce and balsam fir found at higher elevations.

The falls within the War Memorial Park is best reached from the summit, while the other three falls are most easily reached from West Mountain Road and Gould Road near the mountain's base in Adams. Maps and directions may be had at the Visitor Center; have a map with you before leaving. The easiest falls to get to in this series is the upper, easily reached by taking West Road to Gould Road. Upon reaching Greylock Glen, turn left on Gould Road and continue about 0.3 miles to a small parking area on the right. Across the road is a "Pecks Falls" sign. Follow the path into the woods for roughly 200 yards to the base of the falls.


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