Farms and fields — Walks in Williamstown

Thom Smith, a naturalist in the Berkshires, takes a gentle walk in the Williamstown hills.

Field Farm, Cricket Creek Farm, Stone Hill, Mountain Meadow Preserve and Sheep Hill — slopes and gentle trails lie just up the road from The Clark, Williams College and the Williamstown Theater Festival. And many visitors and locals alike may have driven past without ever driving in.

Field Farm

Barely off U.S. Route 7 in South Williamstown, an easy walk crosses the 316-acre Field Farm on well -ept trails through fields, open woods and old-growth forests. The path runs along level ground, as undemanding a walk as any in the Berkshire Hills.

The land has been in agricultural use since the 1750s, and its present caretakers, The Trustees of Reservations, maintain hayfields on 80 acres of the old farm. Wide vistas look out on surrounding mountains, bright with late summer wildflowers and later when maples turn golden on the hillsides.

A pond and surrounding wet meadows add interest, and wet feet if you are not careful.

At the north end of the Field Farm property, in the 42-acre Caves Lot, small streams disappear into a series of underground tunnels, and the water has carved caves over time into the marble bedrock.

The four miles of trails and the grounds keep open year-round for hiking, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing in the shadow of Mount Greylock, the state’s highest peak. And for a look at the night sky, you can stay over. The main house on the property is now a year-round bed and breakfast, and the folly beside it, a museum of sorts, opens for tours from June through October.

Cricket Creek Farm

When you leave Field Farm, instead of returning to Route 7, turn right and continue a short distance up Sloan Road. Directly ahead, you will see a farm with a mission.

Cricket Creek Farm is a dairy farm that also contains old apple orchards and a sugarbush. The sign at the end of the road may catch your attention,: “Free-range chicken eggs.”

Mouths water just thinking about them, while the farm store offers some of my favorite granola — try the maple raison.

The farm has won recognition for its hard and soft cheeses, and all of this, a bakery, dairy herd providing raw milk and farmstead cheese, free range chickens, pigs, and cheerful workers thrive on 500 acres.

Sheep Hill

With autumn in the air, blue sky and sun tempt us to walk in the hills, and Sheep Hill, the headquarters of the Williamstown Rural Lands Foundation, is as peaceful as it is gorgeous.

Sheep Hill, named for the sheep that were raised here in the late 19th century, is a former 50-acre dairy farm called Sunny Brook.  With its restored farmhouse and buildings, and hiking trails, it is open year-round.  The shorter Meadow Walk circles a frog pond at the lower end of the hillside and provides views of Sheep Hill. The longer one-and-a-half-mile Rosenburg Ramble begins north of the farm buildings and loops around the entire property, where near the top you’ll find a wonderful panoramic view of Mount Greylock.

WRLF maintains other trails in the area as well. Sheep Hill’s trail kiosk has complete information on all Williamstown trails, including Hopkins Forest, Mount Greylock and Field Farm.

For a more comprehensive guide to area trails, Williams College’s Outing Club offers a Northern Berkshire Guide.

Stone Hill

Back on Route 7, continue into town to stroll up Stone Hill behind the Sterling Francine Clark Art Institute. You can start from the far-right and enter through a “cow gate” or cross from the far left by the wooden bridge and make your way toward the fields behind the museum.

Cows still graze these fields, so watch your step.

The steep uphill path meanders through open pastures and into old growth forest. The hill may encourage some visitors to stop, not only catch their breath but to turn around and delight in the views.

Late summer and early autumn are colorful times of the year, the golden rod along the roads and in the pastures and fields are ablaze with intense yellow.

Joining us among the goldenrod and asters, we sometimes encounter a migration of green darners, a kind of dragonfly, feeding on tiny flying insects hovering above the wildflowers. As we walked up the hill this fall, we saw them. The darners journey south by the hundreds, as the famous monarch butterflies do.

Mountain Meadow Preserve

A short way further up Route 7, just at the Vermont border, another gentle walk spans a wilder field at Mountain Meadow Preserve, given by botanist Pamela B. Weatherbee in 1998 to the Trustees of Reservations.

Her 176 acres of forest, fields, and wetlands with varied plant and animal communities alone are worth a visit, though you won’t want to miss the views.

The area contains about four miles of easy and moderate hiking trails with one grassy path that meanders through upland meadows, blazing in the early fall with wildflowers, and rare in the Berkshires but common in Williamstown, the paths are beautifully mown.

A trail through woods leads uphill to a summit, with views of Mount Greylock and the Taconic Mountains.

And as the leaves fall the views will stretch out farther, turning from green to golden to smoke blue in the purple mountains.

Directions:

Field Farm:  At the intersection of Route 7 and Route 43, take 43 West and immediately turn right onto Sloan Road. Head up a mile to the entrance on the right. Continue a short distance farther on Sloan Road, to the crossing with Oblong Road at the top of the hill, to reach Cricket Creek Farm.

Sheep Hill: On Route 7, to the west as you head north toward the center of Williamstown, at 671 Cold Spring Road. The trail kiosk has complete information on all Williamstown trails, including Hopkins Forest, Mount Greylock, and Field Farm. The farmhouse and grounds are open year round to the public for picnicking, hiking, and bird watching, and a classroom space has binoculars, field guides and other materials to borrow while you’re on the grounds.

Stone Hill, the open hillside surrounding the Clark Art Institute’s’s Stone Hill Center: The trail begins behind The Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute at 225 South St. From the circle at the meeting of of Routes 2 and 7, in the center of Williamstown, follow the signs and turn right at the last exit before Route 2 continues east up the Main Street.

Mountain Meadow: From the intersection of Routes 2 and 7 in Williamstown, take Route 7 north for 1.7 miles. Turn right onto Mason St. and follow to entrance and parking.

Other areas to look for in Williamstown: Berlin Mountain and its five-mile hike,  Pine Cobble with 10 miles of trails, and the vigorous (800 feet to 2,200 feet climb) at RRR Brooks Trail.

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