The winter is nearly over, and in New England that means mud season is upon us. After a season of epic snowfall amounts and unparalleled winter sports opportunities, it stands to reason that the mud will be deep this spring and the transition lengthy.
This also means that local trails will be nearly impassable, and walking on them is not a good idea. Hiking on wet and muddy trails will cause damage to the trails and increase the maintenance required to keep trails in good shape.
This is not to suggest that you should stay indoors and watch TV. Being outdoors to witness spring returning is one of my favorite seasonal activities. Birds are singing, trees are budding and green is coming back to the landscape. The question is, then, how to enjoy this rebirth without causing lasting impacts?
The easiest way to do this is by choosing alternate places to walk with paths that are less susceptible to damage. One of my favorite walks in the spring is the Mount Greylock Scenic Byway, also known as Notch Road, before it opens to vehicular traffic in May. This is a fairly steep walk, which gives a good workout if you want, or you can take it slowly, with breaks to look, listen and rest. If you are mourning the passing of winter, you may be able to walk back into the cold and snow as you ascend. I like this hike in late afternoon or early evening, and since the road is easy to follow, I sometimes do my return
To start this walk, follow the Mount Greylock State Reservation signs and Notch Road from Route 2, 2.5 miles south to a parking lot at a closed gate. An alternate route begins at the south end of the Hadley overpass on Route 8 at the Western Gateway Heritage State Park. This is the officially designated Mount Greylock Scenic Byway, which follows Furnace Street and Reservoir Road before intersecting with Notch Road. The byway has a scenic overlook with views of North Adams and the Hoosac Range, but I try to stay away from the construction work on the overpass.
Leaving the parking lot, the road gains elevation quickly, negotiating several hairpin turns as it climbs the northern flanks of Mount Williams. The woodlands on both sides of the road are fairly mature second growth hardwood, with birch, maple, cherry and ash trees intermingled. These slopes were all cleared for pasture and farm fields in the 1800s, but have since returned to a natural state. Without leaves to obscure the view, one can make out the Mount Williams Reservoir, the Hoosic River, the bridges on Route 2 and many of the mills in the communities of Greylock and Blackinton. In the background are the southern Green Mountains, the Hoosac Range and Ragged Mountain forming the eastern side of the Bellows Pipe. The sound of running water ebbs and flows as one crosses small intermittent streams rushing downhill to join the Hoosic.
As the road continues to climb, it crosses the Bernard Farm Trail and passes several road cuts, with evidence of the blasting done by the Civilian Conservation Corps to construct and improve this road. Soon the road swings to a more southerly direction and skirts the gulf between Mount Williams and Mount Prospect. Depending on the time of day, this may be a good spot to watch the sun set. On these steeper slopes there is a nice grove of hemlock trees on the right, and shortly after, a piped spring on the left. This mossy spring gives an early glimpse of the greenery to come. One then comes to the saddle between Mount Williams and Mount Prospect, where there is an intersection with the Appalachian Trail and a parking area.
After this, the road continues to gain altitude and traverses the slopes of Mount Fitch, with views through the trees of Mount Prospect to the west, on the far side of Money Brook. Several trail junctions lead to the right and left, and after a mile or so the road comes to the Fitch Overlook, with spectacular views of the Hopper and Stony Ledge. This overlook required major work during the reconstruction as it had collapsed and was threatening to slide into the Hopper. Further on is an intersection with Rockwell Road and a left turn to the summit. By this time, the hardwood trees along the road have been replaced by spruce, fir and other high elevation trees.
As Rockwell Road circles the summit on its final climb, you pass fantastic views of Adams and a grand sweep to the east and north. Since the road is not open yet, the facilities at the summit, including the War Memorial tower and Bascom Lodge, still will be closed. However, there are great views to be had as well as raised relief maps on which to trace your route and panoramas that identify the sights to the east. To return to your vehicle, retrace your steps to the parking lot.
Another mud season hike is on the Ashuwillticook trail, with the section north of Cheshire being my favorite, due to its distance from the road and the proximity of wetlands on either side. The wetlands turn green earlier in the season and come alive with bird song this time of year. The Ashuwillticook is also nearly flat if I don’t feel like working too hard.
I also like the Monroe/Raycroft Road through Monroe State Forest. This seasonal road is solid enough to dry quickly and has very little traffic due to washouts in the middle. You can find other seasonal, little-used roads in your community to enjoy and help you survive mud season.
David Ackerson of North Adams is assistant director of the Williams Outing Club. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.