A Dream Forgotten – Getty Memorial Conservation Area

A Dream Forgotten – Getty Memorial Conservation Area

Where We Went: Getty Memorial Conservation Area & adjacent trails, in between Nessacus Middle School & Wahconah High School in Dalton, MA

When We Went: Late May & August (school WAS out!)

Difficulty (Boots 1 – 10): 0.5 Boot / 1 Boot

Trail Length: Undetermined / shortest trail to conservation area is about 200 yards

How Long it Took Us: 2 hours

Overview: Alright. Ready? I’m gonna attempt to break this area down and also serve it the long-forgotten justice it deserves, SO – bear with me. If you’re looking for just the basics of this hike, skip down to What We Dug. Otherwise strap in, ’cause off we go…

In 1972, Raynard Getty, a high school science teacher, began developing 50 acres behind the Dalton school into a conservation area. In conjunction with classroom studies, Wahconah students, alongside Getty, worked on extensive plans to create a wildlife refuge, 4 1/2 miles of nature trails, two tree farms, a large fieldstone fireplace, and a small pond. A teacher truly ahead of his time,

Getty described his vision as, “a quiet area where students can go to think and meditate.

Students constructed a 22-foot bridge over a drainage ditch that same year. In 1975, the U.S. Navy “Seabees” helped the students dig a 1/2 acre farm pond. Maple, chestnut and other trees were planted with intention of fostering a tree nursery. It’s aim was two-fold, to provide replacement trees to the town and give young people the knowledge of tree care from the ground up. Seven large fieldstone planters were built by students and filled with numerous flower varietals they had been consciously raising indoors. Brush was cut and cleared (teenagers with chainsaws!), benches built, and large stones were relocated to create stone walls. All of this structured towards specific goals, but with kids being the integral part of the program.

Then in 1981, at the age of 52, Getty passed suddenly of a heart attack. He may have only succeeded in developing 20 of the 50 acres planned, but his gifts to the community far exceeded that. What he left behind were inspired students who had learned everlasting skills of perseverance, consideration, and stewardship to take with them into adulthood. An enormous feat for a man with just a humble plan. Later that year, various science classes conceptualized and created a nature trail in Getty’s honor. Together they located, identified, and described 21 different points of interest within the conservation area and trail. Trail markers were built and erected and informational pamphlets were made and distributed at the area’s memorial.

It’s been said that, to hear is to forget, to see is to remember and to do is to understand.

Mr. Getty organized and bonded with these students to give them a chance to work outdoors and learn first-hand about caring for the environment. He helped them build something of value, transforming and nurturing the woods surrounding their school.

With the Earth’s current environmental future in a precarious balance, let this serve as a reminder to how impactful a mentor can be.

Over the years, much of this area has not seen the level of care intended for it, nor have steps been taken to complete Raynard Getty’s vision. The pond is overgrown, trails are no longer marked, and any points of interest have been reclaimed by the woods. Most recently, local Eagle Scouts cleaned up the main conservation area. Led by high school senior Jack Minella, they also built new benches and additional raised beds. With the new school year just beginning, perhaps new efforts will be put forth to rejuvenate such a unique and worthy space. Maybe all it’s waiting for is that one special voice to spark change.

With all of this (so much this), being said, do not expect one of those map at the trailhead, blazes on every 8th tree, kinda hike. For this one, you’ll have to use a tiny amount of self-navigation but your efforts will be well rewarded. The main trails here are wide, well-trodden, and generally all circle back around to one school or the other. But be aware that they are not marked! Even if you can’t find your way out of a paper bag, the conservation area alone is worth the trip. Pull up a bench, take in your surroundings, and meditate for a minute on what one man’s fleeting influence can do for the world.

What We Dug: We drove to Nessacus Middle School and chose to drive around to the back of the school, past the basketball and tennis courts, where a few parking spaces face a large wooded area. (School was out for the summer). Once out of the car, you’ll see a large open space containing a drainage dug-out to the right of a utility garage. We spent some sunshine-y minutes rolling down this grassy hill and picking dandelions. After getting good and dizzy (1 roll was all it took, holy motion sickness batman!), we started off down a familiar ramble. Most Daltonians know of the path I’m referencing, a shortcut taken by many on Friday night during football season. For others, if you stand in the field with your back to the school, the trail I speak of will be facing you and difficult to miss.

Following a (very) short trek, the trees will begin to open up and you will find yourself in the wide open green of the Getty Memorial Conservation Area. If you continue straight over a small wooden bridge you will see Wahconah High School and it’s football field directly in front of you.

Now you’re probably thinking, “that’s it?” “Less than a 2 minute walk?” WAIT. There’s more. We spent some time exploring the conservation area. At that time it hadn’t undergone any maintenance and the pond bridge and other parts were overgrown. After a snack (BECAUSE ALWAYS), we took a left onto a wide trail. There are no markers or blazes on these paths and many offshoots. However, it would be VERY (not impossible, but…) difficult to get lost. With the two school bookending this forested space and the Housatonic river cutting through to the east, regaining your bearings is fairly simple. Most of the trails spit you out at the backside of one school or the other.

In recent years, the trails have seen the addition of outdoor exercise equipment distributed within the woods. Pull up bars, parallel bars, and balance beams became instant jungle gyms for the kids. Searching for the next one kept attentions from flagging. Winding around the side of the schools is the East Branch of the Housatonic river. Through a dense and impressive pine grove you can (carefully) climb down a small embankment to the gravelly-edge of the river. Here we skipped stones and examined abandoned stonefly nymph exoskeletons that they leave stuck to sunny rocks. Heading back to the trails and we found ourselves back at Nessacus, at the edge of an expansive soccer field. To round out a low-impact adventure, the kids chose to run around the basketball courts. Far be it from me to refuse an opportunity to release some MORE energy (like, how. is. it. possible.)

What We Could Do Without: The lack of defined and marked trails make this less accessible for anyone who may be unfamiliar with the area. It would be so wonderful to see Raynard Getty’s full vision brought to life.

Keep Your Eyes Peeled For: Hemlock, white pine, milkweed, monarchs, crayfish, stonefly nymphs

Must Know Before You Go’s: There are no trailheads. No markers or blazes. Be aware that barring summer months, both schools are in session. Wahconah High School is currently undergoing construction. Parking there is not recommended. Due to Covid-19, re-opening of these schools is still unclear, but use sound judgement. Summer and weekends are the best time to explore these trails. No facilities.

Directions: 35 Fox Rd, Dalton, MA 01226 (Nessacus Middle School)

150 Old Windsor Rd, Dalton, MA 01226 (Wahconah High School) Be advised that Wahconah High School is currently undergoing massive construction and parking there is not recommended.

*Entrances to all trails are towards the back ends of both schools.

Scroll through for more photos of our Gettys Conservation Area Adventure!

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Gold Diggers & Cave Crawlers – Widow White Reserve

Gold Diggers & Cave Crawlers – Widow White Reserve

                                             
Where We Went : Widow White Reservation – Lanesboro, MA

When We Went : Early April & again in Late May

Difficulty (Boots 1 – 10) : Steep in places, but mostly easy walking on wide wood roads 2.5 Boots

Trail Length : NO MARKED TRAILS, wood roads are generally clear enough to follow

How Long it Took Us : 2.5 Hours

  Overview : A revenge rock and a cave – two things you wouldn’t be expecting    to see on a walk in the woods, but that’s exactly what you’ll find at Widow White Reserve in Lanesboro, MA.

What’s a revenge rock, you ask? Well, it’s apparently how you express yourself when you’re an scorned windbag with some mean chiselin’ skills. Meet Captain John Brown. Born in Cheshire, Brown was a hot-headed stonemason. He was leader of the Cheshire militia in the 19th century. That is until he disbanded said militia because at a meeting he wasn’t called on first to speak…just to give you an idea of what we’re dealing with here, Petty with a capital P.

Enter Susan Baker. This gal was the richest woman in Lanesboro for many years. She owned Baker’s Tavern on Greylock Road, a popular stage coach inn frequented by travelers over Brodie Mt. highway. Susan also owned a multitude of marble and wood rich acres on Potter Mountain (location of Widow White). At 81 when 69 year old John Brown came ‘a courtin’, old Sue probably couldn’t bring the hammer down fast enough! I mean, the man had 10 children for pete’s sake – if he’d been more transparent he’d be cellophane. Now I ain’t sayin’ he’s a golddigger. But yes. Yes I am.

Johnny had his pride bulldozed and instead of shooting his shot and taking it on the chin, Mr. Brown decided to go for the King’s crown of pettiness – packing his trusty chisel and a whole bag full of bruised ego, he walked from Cheshire to Lanesboro, to the edge of Susan’s property and on an errant boulder chipped away this message:

“Capt. John M. Brown, Born at Stafford’s Hill, Cheshire, Mass., Oct. the 1st, 1808; inscribed upon this rock, April the 2d, 1878. May God bless Susan and all her barren land and when she gets to heaven, I hope she will find a man.”

Whewww, SNAP! Can you taste the bitterness…

john brown boulder

Brown’s Boulder in the 1970’s (Berkshire Eagle)

john brown boudler

Brown’s Boulder Present Day (BFH)

Four years later, Susan died, aged 85 and completely unbothered (my assumption).

But do you know who wasn’t?

YUP.  Old John “dog with a bone” Brown, that’s who. He wrote a follow-up to his original inscription. Although he never took the opportunity to gouge it into stone for all eternity, his family saved the verse and I offer it to you now:

“Now Susan has gone to her long home. It makes me sad, it makes me mourn. What a mighty shock, when I view this rock, to know that I am still alone.”

Good call, Sue – safe to say you dodged a bullet on that one.

(North Adams Transcript)

On the uphill path to Brown’s Boulder, you’ll pass by Baker’s Quarry Cave near a stand of white birches. Named for village belle Susan Baker, this modest hole in the ground doesn’t look like much. But for a spelunker like Clay Perry, caves like this were an underground wonderland. Clay Perry was an author and journalist, a transplant from Wisconsin who moved to the Berkshires in 1912.

An avid cave crawler, Clay explored over 200 Northeastern caves, wrote three books on the subject, (“Underground New England” “New England’s Buried Treasure” and “Underground Empire”) and even coined the term “spelunker!” (Note : If anyone has a copy of one of these books, please contact me! For armchair spelunking only.) Baker’s Quarry was Perry’s favorite cave and he led many conventions here for other cave-crawling enthusiasts. The cave stretches 150-feet and has been visited since 1847 if the inscriptions carved into the walls are any indication. The cave entrance was likely discovered when marble quarrying was done on this property, remnants of which you can also find. The brook nearby is aptly named Disappearing Brook, which disappears and reappears six times over a mile stretch.

I would NOT recommend going inside the cave. Cave-crawlers and spelunkers are serious hobbyists and professionals who know the risks and the equipment needed. If you’re curious about what’s inside,  check out this video Brad Herder took of the inside in 2013.

What We Dug : Would you believe that we didn’t see Brown’s Boulder or Baker Quarry Cave until our return trip? It’s true. We were on the hunt for both but somehow kept circling around the very things we were searching for. During that first trip the trees were bare and the glacier erratics stole the show. Everywhere we turned there was a bigger boulder than the last, another rock to climb, another outcrop to conquer. When we returned, we were on a mission. It was one we accomplished and truly enjoyed – who doesn’t love a good mystery hunt – but cave or no cave, Widow White is such a cool place to explore.

What We Could Do Without : The first time we visited Widow White, the trees were still budded and the forest floor was mostly clear, save for a few early spring ephemerals. What a difference a month makes! Widow White doesn’t have maintained trails but the wood roads make for easy walking.

Widow White in April

Widow White in May

Still, when we returned in May, it was full bore glorious spring and we found that the wood roads can get a bit lost underneath the new growth. Beyond being absolutely stunningly green everywhere you turn, it can be easy to get turned around, so please you caution, good judgment and a map.

Keep Your Eyes Peeled For: Captain John Brown Stone, Baker’s Quarry Cave, the remnants of a mill dam on Secum Brook, small quarries and an extensive stone wall, spring ephemerals like trillium and hepatica, jack-in-the-pulpit, birch groves, snails

Must Know Before You Go’s: Hunting is allowed in-season. Wear reflective clothing and take precautions. No Facilities. No Marked Trails. Silver Street is a dirt road and the parking lot is unpaved.

Directions: Widow White Reserve is accessed from an unimproved trailhead off of Silver Street.
From the center of Lanesborough: north on Route 7 to a left on Bailey Road. Follow Bailey Road north for 1.0 miles to a left on Silver Street. Follow Silver Street for 0.4 miles to the trailhead, which is at the top of a short steep hill, on a very sharp left-hand curve. Trailhead is on the right at the curve. GPS: 42.5472, -73.2520 (trailhead parking)

Website : https://www.bnrc.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/WidowWhite_TrailMap.pdf

Resources : https://mysterious-hills.blogspot.com/2010/03/recalling-perry-explorer-of-berkshire.html

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=42Ate6oC-Rc

Scroll Through for More Pictures of our Widow White Adventure!