Where We Went: Longcope Park – South Lee, MA
When We Went: Early January
Difficulty (Boots 1 – 10): 1.5 Boots
Trail Length: Loop Trail, just under 1 mile (Blue Blazes)
How Long it Took Us: 2 Hours
Overview: Janet Longcope Park is 46-acres of eastern hemlock, pine and oak nestled amongst residences off of Church Street in South Lee. When we visited, we observed that the property was slowly choking under the weight of invasive Oriental Bittersweet, a plight that in Winter, made an indelible impression.
It’s namesake – Janet Percy Dana Longcope -was the only daughter of Paul Dana, noted Gilded Age family and editor of The New York Sun. (FUN FACT: the Charles A. Dana Discovery Center in Central Park is named after Janet’s grandfather) Serving as a nurse with the French Army in World War I, Janet would go on to marry John Hopkins Director of Medicine, Warfield Theobald Longcope. The couple would later move to Lee, settling their family on a tract they’d call Cornhill Farm. Now a seasonal rental property, what remains of the Longcope farm is around the corner from Longcope Park.
Janet, was a master bookbinder, and had a bindery attached to the house. She took on commissions, and taught and trained with famed Arno Werner, whose bookbinding shop was in nearby Pittsfield. After her husbands death in 1953, Janet traveled to countries all over the world, returning to some, such as India, as many as nine times. An avid photographer, she enjoyed giving informal lectures about her travels to places like Japan, Singapore, Taiwan, Sri Lanka, Yemen, Malaysia, and Lebanon (to name just a few). In 1974, she died at Cornhill Farm, aged 88. Janet’s enormous collection of Asian photographs was later gifted to the Smithsonian.
“The Wings” – Estate of Charles A. Dana on Glen Cove
Oddly enough, while researching Janet Percy Dana Longcope, I stumbled on the very subject that had made our visit to Longcope Park so… bittersweet, (yup. I did it.) but it would surface 200 miles away on the tiny island of Dosoris in the town of Glen Cove, north of Long Island, NY.
“The Wings,” as it was called, was Charles Dana’s summer retreat. Charles was Janet’s grandfather and in 1889, Garden and Forest magazine published a letter to the editor describing this elegant estate in great detail but one sentence in particular stood out:
“A seawall is built all around the island, and it is draped and festooned with Matrimony vine (Lycium barbatum), our native Bitter-sweet, a Japanese species of the same genus (Celastrus articulatus) and Periploca Graeca, which are planted on the top.”
How do you like that? The very problem currently strangling the woods that make up Longcope Park, making their foreboding appearance 130 years ago at her grandpa’s house, no less! It’s ironic that these two members of the Dana family were such ardent fans of all things Asian. Janet capturing her passion through photography and Charles, a notable Asian art collector, owning over 600 pieces in his lifetime. The Chinese oaks that graced the grounds at “The Wings” were planted with acorns purportedly collected from Confucius’s tomb! It seems strangely congruent yet grimly sardonic that this land gifted by Janet Longcope is threatened to be wiped out by an eastern thread, this Asian essence of which she (and Charles) so treasured.
What We Dug: Truth be told, before our visit, I had never even heard of Longcope Park. As a lifetime Berkshire resident, it is always a treat to find these lesser-known plots scattered around the Berkshires. We had no idea what to expect but were pleasantly surprised with an easy-walking loop trail that includes two footbridges crossing a small stream.The downed trees that lay trailside made natural balance beams and the hollow logs were fascinating to the kids as we made our way through the woods. The tall pines were swaying in hushed tones with the cold winter wind. Waterside, we built stone towers and tried to keep dry, penguin-walking over the icy bridges.
After fungi was inspected, ferns were collected and we passed a moment in silence for a fallen friend (the shrew), we were back at the parking lot and now well acquainted with Longcope Park.
What We Could Do Without: This. This thing right here. The serpentine succubus that is Oriental bittersweet. A deciduous, woody, perennial vine that is native to parts of Asia. First introduced to the U.S. around 1870 as a hardy and ornamental cover plant, it is now found virtually everywhere in most eastern states. Bittersweet is considered to be one of our most problematic invasive species. It grows really fast and can quickly strangle and topple trees. It has an extremely high germination rate, even when conditions are poor and sunlight scarce. Because of its attractive orange berries, birds and people have aided in its spread because neither can resist carrying them around to new places. Bittersweet doesn’t just rely on magpie-eyed humans to ensure its survival, ohhh no, this robo-plant can also re-sprout from its roots, making just cutting back the vine totally futile. It can easily climb trees up to 90-feet tall, literally choking out and girdling any plants that it clings to. (Cue the Jumanji flashbacks)
It’s been observed to have completely covered half-acre wood lots in just 7-10 years.
Against the bare winter landscape, the orange fruit of the bittersweet stuck out EVERYWHERE. And like a ligneous brown boa constrictor, we could see it’s smothering damage all over Longcope Park.
Keep Your Eyes Peeled For: Eastern Hemlock, White Pine, Beech, Polypody Fern, Mountain Wood Fern, Acadian Fly-Catcher, Black-throated Green Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, Louisiana Waterthrush, Winter Wren, Woodpecker, Chickadee, Nuthatch, Red Squirrel, Red-backed Vole, Smoky Shrew, White-footed Mouse
Must Know Before You Go’s : Although the temperature was below 30F during our visit, (and colder in the woods!), many portions of the trail were pretty muddy and wet. There was ample room to go around the muddy areas, but keep this in mind as Spring gets closer and the snow melts. The entrance to the parking area off of Church Street can sneak up on you, so don’t be surprised if you drive right by and have to turn around.
No facilities on property. Leashed dogs only. No mountain biking, motorized vehicles or xc-skiing.
Directions: From US-7 S in Lenox – Follow US-7 S for 2.5 miles. Turn right onto W Road and follow for 1.6 miles. W Road becomes Church Street and Longcope Park will be on the left.