Where We Went: Warner Hill, Hinsdale MA
When We Went: April 2021
Difficulty (Boots 1 – 10): 2.5 Boots
Trail Length: 1.4 miles out and back
How Long it Took Us: 2 hours
Overview: Once pasture and prime farmland, it is hard to believe that the wooded area of Warner Hill was once completely clear-cut. In 2017, The Trust for Public Land expanded the Appalachian Trail in the Berkshires, purchasing a 370-acre tract of land that adjoined the summit of Warner Hill. It was then sold to the National Park Service, who manage the land as part of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail. This portion of the AT attracts local walkers, visiting day-trippers, and thru-hikers, many of whom ascend Warner Hill to take in its spectacular views of the Housatonic River Valley, Mount Greylock, and surrounding Berkshire Mountains. The now protected property also encircles important ecological sites, such as a habitat for rare species in the Hinsdale Flats area.
What We Dug: Growing up in nearby Dalton, Warner Hill has been a frequent family hiking spot since I was a kid. The trek from the pull-off area on Blotz Road is a manageable length for kids to accomplish and feel proud at the summit. It’s also possible to extend your hike, either by continuing onwards to Tully Mountain and the Kay Woods Shelter or alternately, parking on Grange Hall Road and hiking up the opposite way. One of my favorite adventures, the views from the summit during autumn are truly magical.
Along this stretch of the Appalachian Trail, you see evidence of what the land used to be. Complex histories and lives hidden in forested landscape, toppling stone walls and gnarled apple trees, all that’s left to tell the stories of previous generations. If this were the Appalachias, some long ago farmer might have penned “The Ballad of Warner Hill” to tell their own tale of hardship, but alas, the only connection to those folkways of yore is the Appalachian trail that would come much later.
Still, there is a legend to be told. The story of a tireless woman who once walked this stretch of Appalachian Trail in the pitch dark at 2 a.m. for a newspaper scoop. I give you:
“The Ballad of Cora Couch Lovell: First Female Town Clerk in Massachusetts.”
In the beautiful hills, way back in Hinsdale County
There’s where I roamed for many long years
There’s where my heart’s been tending most ever
That’s where the first step of progress I made
It was 1921 when I got elected
Town Clerk of Hinsdale, first woman in state
But with all the taxes that I had collected
Justice of the Peace was also my fate
For twenty four years this small town I rambled
I served and I toiled both librarian and teach
But of all of the jobs that I had contracted
Newspaper reporter was my favorite beat
One night I was woken and told to go searching
For wreckage of airplane that surely had crashed
I climbed Warner Hill at two in the morning
Reached the top in my nightgown, and nothing amiss
Was a backfiring motorboat someone had heard
I played tennis and golf and taught Sunday lessons
My husband had gone with God’s grand design
When my final days came I had made preparations
Wrote my own death certificate, blank space for the time.
(Inspired by Hills of Roane County by Tony Rice)
Cora Couch Lovell carved an interesting path. A woman who set out to find a peaceful place to live her later years and accomplished so much more. One of her final acts as town clerk before her death in 1945 was to write out her own death certificate, leaving space to fill in the time.
To read more about Cora Lovell and the many hats she wore for the town of Hinsdale, check out this 1939 interview done for the Federal Writers’ Project. Be aware that Cora Lovell uses some ignorant and ugly language when describing the people she married as Justice of the Peace, particularly Black people.
What We Could Do Without: Horse flies and black flies are abundant and consistently a nuisance at the summit of Warner Hill. Consider yourself warned.
Keep Your Eyes Peeled For: spring ephemerals, marsh marigold, gneiss boulder outcrops, Norway spruce, old stone wall, wood ferns, apple trees, beech and birch trees.
Must Know Before You Go’s: No Facilities, Leashed Dogs OK, Always be respectful and pack out what you pack in. Be sure to follow current Covid health guidelines.
Directions: Parking area off Blotz Road, Hinsdale MA
Resources: www.hinsdaledayz.org, Berkshire County Eagle April 25, 1945; North Adams Transcript February 12, 1921; Berkshire Eagle July 12, 1997, “Picturesque Berkshire” 1893, www.explorewmass.blogspot.com/2007/12/fedral-writers-project-ms-cora-lovell.html