Berkshire Naturalist Thom Smith takes a walk through a Mass Audubon property in Sheffield.
From beginning to end, a visitor to Lime Kiln Farm Wildlife Sanctuary would be hard pressed to find a more beautiful walk that includes vistas of the Taconic Mountains beyond open hayfields and history with glimpses of barbed-wire fences, stone walls long abandoned marble quarry pits and a 40-foot lime kiln.
This easy walk offers plenty of opportunities to enjoy a peacefulness interrupted only by singing birds, frogs, crickets and the rustling of leaves. And in the open fields, many kinds of butterflies visit the wildflowers.
At the head of the path, Mount Everett, reaching 2,624 feet above sea level, is clearly visible, three miles west. (The kiosk offers trail maps, and the trail markings are simple: Follow the blue markers to head away from here and yellow ones to return.)
The trail heads among aging apple trees and along a former dairy farm road, with wetlands on the left and a hayfield on the right. Listen for both green and bull frogs around the small farm pond.
Here the trail divides and for a shorter walk it makes a loop passing the cement and brick lime kiln on the right. In summer it is partially hidden by the trees.
Along the edges of open hay fields, keep a watch for evergreen red cedars, especially after a late spring or early summer rain, when they will carry small brownish apple-like growths with protruding orange tentacles, a parasite on eastern red cedars and apple trees called the cedar-apple rust.
After a section of path that is often waterlogged, keep an eye to the left for the first of the areas small quarries hidden just off the trail. Looking to the right after a gentle uphill trek, you may notice cement footings for the former trestle that carried marble up to the open mouth of the kiln, where it was dumped in to cook at temperatures upwards to 1,400 degrees. The kiln, built in 1909, operated for only three years before being abandoned. Look for it on the right, just before the trail enters a switchback or hairpin turn.
Along the way, you’ll see the prickly ash, a common shrub or small tree in the southern Berkshires. Don’t brush up against or lean on; its branches are protected by sharp spines. It is sometimes called the toothache tree, and American Indians would chew its bark or paste ground bark on their gums to relieve tooth ache. Its crushed leaves offer a lemon scent.
The former pastures, now kept as hay fields, are mowed annually, but only in late summer to protect grassland nesting birds.
After viewing the kiln (from a safe distance) you can either continue the loop back to the trail head or follow the Quarry Trail on the right. This path soon leads to a low monument to the three ladies who lived on this property and are responsible for conserving it. Today it maintained as a Massachusetts Audubon Sanctuary.
Pools of water alongside the trail are former pits where marble for the kiln was quarried. Take a short spur off to the right to visit a large boulder among the trees, a gift of the receding glacier. Geologists call boulders like this one a glacial erratic left as the ice melted and retreated.
Return to the Quarry trail and take a right onto the Taconic Vista Trail for a brief detour to the vista itself, with views of distant rolling hills and mountains.
Here the fields can be alive on sunny days with butterflies — more than 50 species have been discovered on the sanctuary.
A few years ago during a morning visit we encountered a rare butterfly, the giant swallowtail, North America’s largest butterfly, as we walked back to the car. It was among the first seen in the area and the first one I ever saw.
From the deeper, cooler woods listen for singing thrushes, both the melodious wood thrush and veery with its “vee-ur, vee-ur” song descending in pitch. Ovenbirds loudly call “teacher-teacher-teacher-teach,” and they give the name of the trail you will soon find yourself on.
Soon the path turns and comes out onto an old road again, rejoining the Quarry Trail, where we once discovered a large gray tree frog nestled in an upturned blue trail marker leading us back to the beginning.
What: Lime Kiln Farm wildlife sanctuary, a Mass Audubon property
Directions: From downtown Sheffield on Route 7, head just over a mile south. Turn right onto Silver Street and follow it just over a mile to the sanctuary entrance on the right. From the Connecticut border, border, follow 7 Route north for 3.6 miles to Silver Street on the left.
Hours: Open every day, dawn to dusk. No facilities
Admission: $3 for adults, $2 for children; seniors and children under three get in free. Dogs are not allowed. Beware of ticks and poison ivy.