Where We Went: Crane’s Pond – unofficial trails adjacent to the Boulders off of Gulf Road, Dalton MA
When We Went: Both April & November
Difficulty (Boots 1 – 10): 1 Boot
Trail Length: 1/2 mile of walking, various trails
How Long it Took Us: 1.5 hours
Overview: The Crane name is well-known around these parts. If you ask any Daltonian about the town’s claim to fame they’ll say something like, “Check your wallet, that’s us in there.” And they’re right – that dollar bill in your pocket has origins to this quiet, mill-town nestled in the Berkshire hills.
Twenty-two year old Zenas Crane rode into western Massachusetts in 1801. Looking for a site to build a paper mill and finding the Housatonic River, he bought 14 acres of land in Dalton (for $194!) and set to work. He built the first paper mill west of the Connecticut River and began producing paper goods of the finest kind. Zenas Crane and the subsequent generations became a Dalton dynasty.
At one time, 1/4 of the town’s population was employed by Crane & Company and Crane family mansions were built in neighborly proximity to the homes of their employees. Since 1879, Crane & Co. has had an exclusive contract to supply paper for currency and securities to the U.S. Treasury, a contract that still stands today!
The paper kings (and queens), were both honored residents and economic political forces in Dalton (and beyond). Their public-spiritedness permeated both politics and town altruism. In Berkshire County, the Crane’s would build the Dalton Community House (CRA), Pinegrove Park, Berkshire Museum, the Dalton Public Library and Town Hall (to name a few)!
The tract of land on which Crane’s Pond and the Boulders lie was acquired by the family in the early 19th century. Once just the backyards of the Main Street Crane mansions, many Dalton residents have fond childhood memories of playing in those woods. Winter ice skating on Crane’s Pond, sledding, fishing, and hunting for salamanders. One resident, Jason Reese, remembers:
“Summertime, we would stop and say hello to Mrs. Winnie Crane (now Sugar Hill) and ask for permission to pick some apples from her trees for our long journey to The Boulders. On the way back down we would make our way to the lower pond (the one that is next to the road) for some catch and release fishing. We would usually pass by Chris Crane tending to his beehives. He always gave a wave to us kids and maybe a little lesson on the bees. I feel very lucky to have been a free range kid with the ability to explore nature and use the imagination that I was provided. Many adventures took place in those woods and I’m forever grateful to the Crane family for providing the space to be a kid.”
Investing much of their wealth back into their community, this area was made public in 1994. In 2015, it was gifted to the Berkshire Natural Resources Council.
The continued success of Crane & Co. has always benefited the community at large and the numerous philanthropic contributions thread throughout the town’s fabric, stitching it all together in a bond that would make Zenas proud.
What We Dug: Like many other Daltonians, this area brings back fond memories for my husband and I. We both spent time exploring here as kids and it always feels right bringing a new generation here. Down the hill we went, keeping a sharp eye out for an old chimney still stretching it’s neck to the clouds. We stacked some kindling for a pretend fire before continuing down to the pond. Opening up to tree-lined banks, the kids eagerly zipped to the shore. Standing over a man-made grate, they’re easily impressed by the water rushing under their feet. The wide trail offers room to dip a net and skip a stone or two.
On the opposite side of the trail, a fordable stream cuts through the woods and is a great place for rock-collecting and a snack break.
Meandering down another path we stumbled upon a perfect climbing tree. We took another turn and discovered a field of dried milkweed pods ready for dissection and wish-blowing. Located at the north end of the pond, a pump house for an artesian well supplies water to the mill across Main Street. The well has been said to free flow around 1,500-2,000 gallons of water per minute! If you’re in the mood for more of a hike, continue on the Red trail past the pond you will eventually intersect with a Blue trail that leads to the Boulders property.
There is so much to discover in this little woodland nook and you don’t have to hike far to access it. Spaces like this are so important for children (and grown folk too). Natural environments to run and explore, to get dirty and scrape knees, to challenge and learn independently, are fewer and far between. It’s easy to see why this holds such a special place in the hearts of so many Dalton residents and that it continues to be a little utopia for neighborhood kids who come looking for it.
What We Could Do Without: Sometimes it can feel a little “trespass-y” because the land skirts so many others. So many people have shared stories about the neighborly “open door” policy of the Crane’s in sharing outdoor space, but please remember to be mindful and respectful of other’s space.
Keep Your Eyes Peeled For: Chimney and structural remnants, pump house, oak trees, apple, maple, beech, ash, birch, white pine, hemlock, deer and barred owls, red trillium, pink lady-slippers, milkweed, red newts
Must Know Before You Go’s: Many of the trails here are “unofficial” and can be easily confused with other trails. Bring a map or GPS device. If you choose to enter the trail through Ashuelot Cemetery, note that there is no parking area, so it is at your own risk. This cemetery is active and holds services that should not be interrupted. No Facilities. Leashed dogs allowed. Mountain biking accessible.
Directions: You can access Crane’s Pond from the east side of Gulf Road, the entrance of the Heart Healthy Trail owned by BNRC.
To the trailhead parking area on Gulf Road, Dalton: take routes 8/9 east from the center of Pittsfield. Take a left onto Park Avenue, passing Craneville School. Take a left onto Gulf Road. Park at the pull-off on the left, opposite the parking for the Appalachian Trail.
GPS: 42.4816, -73.1783 (trailhead parking on Gulf Road)
A lesser known access point is the Ashuelot Street Cemetery. Towards the back fence there is an entrance to an unmarked trail. Do not impede traffic and park at your own risk. This cemetery is active and services should not be interrupted.
Scroll through for more pictures of our Crane’s Pond adventure(s)!