Where We Went: Wild Acres Conservation Area, Pittsfield MA
When We Went: Late May, Early August
Difficulty (Boots 1 – 10): 2 Boots
Trail Length: 2 miles of trails
How Long it Took Us: 2 hours
Overview: Located next to the airport off of South Mountain Road in Pittsfield, Wild Acres Conservation Area is 2-miles of trails surrounded by mixed woodlands, wetlands, ponds, and an observation tower.
Wild Acres was once an 83-acre piece of land owned by the Shakers, who built its pond. After the 80-year tenure with the Shakers, it was sold to successful shoemaker, C. Dudley Holman. Avid birders, Holman and his wife Clementine added log cabins to the property, concrete dams to the pond, and cordoned off a white-sand spring with water temperatures of 42 degrees.
After her husband’s death in 1929, Clementine sold the property and it was opened as a private outdoors recreation and sportsman’s club under the Walton League. The endeavors of the Walton Sanctuary were fraught with financial difficulties and eventually, the property was given to the city of Pittsfield in 1965. It was during this time that 12-acres were whittled off for an airport runway extension. With the help of the YACC in the ’70s, the Conservation Commission oversaw extensive construction of buildings, recreational amenities, and picnic areas.
In 2007, 21-acres was again lost to the airport for expansion, this time replaced by an additional 84-acres of undeveloped forest and farmland acquired by eminent domain.
What We Dug: The pond at Wild Acres, or “Holman Lake” as it was once called, has been the site for countless anglers for the past 92 years. Over 150 fishing derbies have taken place on its dandelion-dotted shores, from youth derbies, senior days, and scout gatherings. Throughout the years, some of the attendance numbers were incredible, with derbies in the 1960’s drawing over 800 contestants! After the passing of Proposition 2 1/2 in the 1980’s, gone went the municipal money to fund events and with it went participation. A group of private citizens formed The Friends of Wild Acres, and over the next 45 years led by Fred Garner Jr. they made a push to fundraise and sponsor 2 yearly derbies at Wild Acres. Barring cancellation in 2009 due to lack of funds, it was the efforts of this small community group that kept the fishing tradition alive at Wild Acres.
We’ve visited Wild Acres often, both to walk the trails and to fish. Kids 14 and under are welcome to fish here anytime without a required license and it’s a perfect spot to pack a lunch, learn the basics, and while away an afternoon.
Sitting on the banks, marvel at how many poles have been cast into these waters over the last 92 years. Take a moment and think about the complicated relationships we have with public green spaces. Why it always seems to fall on virtuous citizens to champion for upkeep and outreach, yet the moment it’s deemed “of use” for an urban expansion project, the government comes clamoring. When it comes to money, it’s always about the angles and never about the anglers.
What We Could Do Without: It’s obvious when you’re visiting Wild Acres that this property has fallen victim to being out of sight, out of mind, out of funding, and thus out of luck. Now mainly a popular spot for dog walking, forgotten poop bags seem to be the main blaze on the trails. Stay alert for poison ivy, both on the ground and snaking up trees.
Keep Your Eyes Peeled For: Foam Flower, Cypress Spurge, Speedwell, Sneezewort, Chicory, Asters, Joe Pye Weed, Goldenrod, Ash, White Pine, Larch, Beech, Ferns, Beaver, Heron, Skimmers, Various Bird Species.
Must Know Before You Go’s: The trails here are not well-marked, however the system is set up in a rough figure 8 so you should ultimately loop back around.
Fishing is allowed for children 14 years old and under. Facilities are not open at this time. Leashed dogs OK. Handicapped Access is only available in the parking lot, the trails are not ADA. Please pack out what you pack in, including dog poop.
Directions: South Mountain Road, Pittsfield, MA.
Resources: Berkshire Eagle Archives, Conway Designs: Pittsfield Open Space Plan