Where We Went: Mountain Meadow Preserve / Williamstown, MA & Pownal, Vermont

When We Went: Last day of August

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

Trail Length: 4.1 miles of trails – Trail surrounding Mountain Meadow is less than 1-mile loop

How Long it Took Us: 2 Hours

Overview: 180-acres of fields and reforested woods make up Mountain Meadow Preserve with portions located in both Williamstown, MA, and Pownal, Vermont. It is owned and maintained by the Trustees of Reservations.

Grace Stoddard Niles spent her childhood exploring that land and in 1902, after studying art and working as a nurse, published Bog-trotting for Orchids in 1904, with her own illustrations. Town & Country magazine praised it as “easily the most inspiring and delightful nature book of the season.” She continued to publish articles on local history and nature. In 1918, at the age of 54, Grace settled on her family’s land but by 1921, her behavior became erratic, and she began harassing her neighbors, culminating in the seemingly deliberate burning down of her own house. Suffering from mental illness at a time when it was entirely misunderstood, she would spend her last two decades as a patient in the Brattleboro Retreat, where she died in 1943. Although long out of print, Bog-Trotting still inspires readers to explore the “rich, warm glooms” of her beloved wetlands, where “a wonderland of discovery” is available “to any one who persistently, though reverently, seeks to lure from Nature the secrets of her deep retreats.”

The well-mowed Niles Trail, Grace’s namesake, leads to the 690-foot elevated grassland where one can gaze across diverse wildflower fields. Spend some time soaking in the spectacular views of Mt. Prospect, Mt. Greylock, and the Taconic Range, that surround this massive meadow. Few landscapes can match the fiery patchwork that transforms the horizon during peak fall.

What We Dug: The short walk from the trailhead to the meadow was filled with excitement. Everywhere we turned, we discovered something new. Monarch caterpillars enjoying the milkweed, gnarled vines to swing on, and a hopping toad hurriedly crossing our path. Autumn days were far from our minds as we marched into the wild expanse of goldenrod and asters, banked among crimson sumac. It was fun telling the kids about an old goldenrod superstition. It’s been said that a person who carries goldenrod with them is destined to find treasure, being a symbol of riches and good fortune. This resulted in a scurry of hands and yellow clutchings, and we spent generous portions of this adventure “treasure hunting” and then doggedly trying to define “superstition” to a 6-year-old – *face palm* (did I say fun?).

Continuing our slow amble around the field; monster grasshoppers, butterflies, and dragonflies galore surprised us at every turn. Veda, our 2-year-old, found herself in flower heaven. Stopping to smell the roses (or in this case, the purple asters), takes no prodding when you’re only knee-high. Mason (6), was more difficult to impress. Throughout the hike, he had mentioned (read: repeated every 3rd step), how MUCH he’d LOVE to see a praying mantis. Neither Dan nor myself had ever seen a mantis and not knowing much about them (habitat, lifespan, etc.), we did what any sane parent trying to avoid a massive let-down would do – SNACK TIME! This redirection didn’t last (it never does), and before long we were back to muttering our mantis mantra. And ya know what guys? It worked. I shit you not. Somehow that kid conjured a mantis out of the sky. Flying (they fly!) down in front of us was what looked like a white dragonfly. The creature landed on a large stalk and upon further investigation – there. it. was. MANTIS. We could not believe our eyes! It was quite a while before we abandoned our new friend and got back to the trail. Talk about speaking something into existence!

On this brilliantly blue day, the views of the Hoosac Valley and Mt. Greylock were breathtaking. At the top of the meadow, the billowy sea of clouds hung almost motionless over the grand hills. With summer swiftly fleeing, you couldn’t help taking the extra time to drink it all in. We followed the loop back to the parking lot and vowed to return in the fall.

Lapses in parental judgment be damned, Mountain Meadow came through with the real treasures that day. Gold is for fools, nature is the infinite prize.

What We Could Do Without: Muddy in spots. If it’s been raining in recent days before your visit, be sure to wear appropriate footwear. Be sure and tuck in your pants and do the pest prevention dance – fields and long grass can be tick-city.

Keep Your Eyes Peeled For: Goldenrod, asters, grasshopper, crickets, mantids, monarch caterpillars & butterflies

Must Know Before You Go’s : Great Birding Locale, No Facilities, Leashed Dogs OK, Cross Country Skiing, Snowshoeing, and Picnicking Permitted, No Bicycles.

Directions : Williamstown parking area: From the intersection of Rts. 2 and 7 in Williamstown, take Route 7 north for 1.7 miles. Bear right onto Mason Street (steep dirt road uphill), follow to entrance and parking. GPS – 42.7385337,-73.2075694

Alternate Entrance/Pownal, Vt. parking area: From the intersection of routes 2 and 7 in Williamstown, follow Route 7 north 1.7 miles, turn right onto Sand Spring Road, then bear right onto Bridges Road Follow for 0.3 miles, turn left onto White Oaks Road, and follow for 1.1 miles when the road becomes dirt. Continue for 0.4 miles, bear left at the fork onto Benedict Road, and continue 0.1 miles to entrance and parking (eight cars) on left.

Website: thetrustees.org

More info on the land’s former history here

Scroll through for more photos of our Mountain Meadow Adventure!