Berkshire naturalist Thom Smith takes a fall walk in the northern hills. With land in Pownal Vermont and Williamstown, Massachusetts, I cannot think of a lovelier autumn walk than the preserve we call Mountain Meadow.
Choose an afternoon with few clouds, when walking will be even more pleasurable if skies are blue and foliage contrasting, and annoying flies and mosquitoes are at a minimum. Days are shorter, but so much more can be crammed into one, with low humidity and often cool breezes. Allow a minimum of a couple hours for this trek.
I have enjoyed many such cool, sunny afternoons in the fall, beginning at the Mountain Meadow Preserve’s Mason Street parking area in Williamstown. The 180 acres of hilly terrain has four miles of trails, easily followed and well-marked into the Green Mountain State.
Begin at either end, although I prefer the Trustees of Reservation’s informational kiosk in Williamstown, and walk along a well-groomed path snaking through a field predominately milkweed, golden brown grasses and goldenrod toward, and over Mason Hill, eventually arriving at Mountain Meadow’s back door on Benedict Road in Pownal, Vt.
While enjoying its varied habitats — forest, meadow and wetland — look for mushrooms and late blooming asters. Colorful foliage is a constant companion. It is an easy walk along a loop trail through the meadow responsible for the property’s name.
In early autumn, dragonflies still cruise just above the tall grasses and meadow plants. Here too, are beautiful views of our hills and rounded peaks. And along the way come across an abandoned piece of farm equipment, a 1940s vintage hay loader. For 200 years, agriculture was the land’s primary use, except for the higher slopes that were reserved for timber.
With milkweed in such abundance, a haven for monarch butterflies, take a moment to examine a pod; many will be open, some empty, others containing seeds yet to be released for their journey to wherever the breezes take them. Many are airborne, if the breeze takes hold.
Returning to the Grace Greylock Niles Trail, and before leaving the meadow behind, enjoy the view of the Hoosac Valley and Mount Greylock. Look for Williamstown’s church spires.
In the woods now, maples abound, with some white pine and cherry, and as you get deeper, notice white oak with rounded lobed-leaves and witch hazel, a late flowering shrub, with tiny yellowish blossoms in the fall.
The climb continues moderately up hill, and with map in hand, you can decide when to turn back toward Williamstown or continue, as I often do, to the Niles home. A stone and cement foundation is all that remains. Niles wrote “Bog Trotting for Orchids” in 1904, a wonderful little book with color illustration, that incidentally is free to download or read online through a Google search of her name.
From here I began the return, eventually veering onto a trail to the left toward another overlook along the Kalarama Trail to a wood road leading to a scenic overlook at the ruins of Mausert’s Camp, a rustic family getaway. Here, two fireplaces and cabin footings remain. Vistas may not be as extensive as when woods were much younger and the Mausert family enjoyed outings there in a time before the camp burned down in the 1970s. Return to the main trail, going right and returning to the Grace Greylock Niles Trail taking it left back to the parking area.
Mountain Meadow rises from 690 feet at the Mason Street entrance to more than 1,100 feet along much of the Vermont trails, and 1120 feet if you choose the trail that crosses over the Mason Hill summit. If you want to enjoy your vistas the easy way, enter the reservation from the Pownal side, meandering along flat trails to the wood road leading to Mausert’s Camp.
Open year-round, daily, sunrise to sunset.
Free admission. No mountain biking and dogs must be leashed.
Directions to Williamstown entrance: From intersection of Routes 2 and 7, take 7 north for 1.7 miles. Bear right onto Mason Street and follow to entrance and parking.