WILLIAMSTOWN -- About 430 people attended this year's Fall Festival at Hopkins Memorial Forest - a celebration of the outdoors and of the changing New England seasons. Drew Jones said this year's festival was one of the best-attended in his 14 years as manager of the forest.
"It may even be the top," he said. "I'm not sure, but it's up there. It's close."
The sunny fall weather on Sunday, Sept. 29, drew a constant stream of visitors to the forest to walk the trails and enjoy hands-on activities. Visitors took turns operating an old-fashioned cider press, sawing medallions from a tree using a crosscut saw, and splitting wood to make shingles. Up the trail, Williams College students guided visitors through the forest's 65-foot-high Canopy Walkway.
Jones said this year's increased turnout may partly have been the result of more advertising on campus. He estimated that between 150 and 200 students attended the festival. Stephanie Durell ‘14 who is crew supervisor for the 11 Williams students who work at the forest and who helped organize and lead events at the festival, drove six van loads of students to and from the forest on Sunday.
The rest of the visitors were mainly families from the community, Jones said. Long lines of cars were parked along Northwest Hill Road and Bulkley Street. Some people also walked, biked or ran to the festival.
Jones acknowledged that it was still a bit early for the full display of fall color, "but this is a fall festival and a forest festival," he said. "So the foliage is nice but we're out here for other reasons as well."
One of the more popular events for kids was wood splitting, guided by Lauren Stevens and David Loomis, who have been involved in the preservation of the 1753 House in Field Park. Visitors took turns using old-fashioned tools to split shingles from logs of an ash tree that came from the forest. Some of the tools (including a froe used for cleaving) were used in the construction of the 1753 House.
Walking Catmount, a North Adams resident of Mohawk descent and a regular volunteer at the forest, began coming to the festivals in 1974. This year, as in many previous years, she was making apple butter over an open fire near the Rosenberg Center at the forest's entrance.
In the apple orchard next to the center, visitors took turns cranking the handle of the forest's old-fashioned wooden cider press. Catamount remembers when the forest originally had two presses, and when competing college fraternities "blew one of them apart."
Catamount's son, Charles, and Scott Wiemer ‘14, who volunteered at the press this year, estimated that between 30 and 35 gallons of cider were produced on Sunday afternoon. Almost all of the cider and apple butter produced on Sunday was gone by the end of the day. The peels and cores will be used for compost.
Another popular attraction was the Canopy Walkway, designed by visiting professor of biology Margaret Lowman in the 1990s. Guided by student workers, visitors clipped in to safety harnesses and ascended a narrow ladder into the canopy, then crossed a swaying bridge suspended between two trees and climbed down a ladder the other side. It was such a popular attraction that the festival ended before some people could experience it.
Fall Festival is the only time of year when the general public is invited onto the walkway, Jones said. Small groups sometimes rent the walkway as a tool for confidence building or for educational activities.
Other events at the festival included a hands-on science station manned by Jay Racela, technical assistant for the forest's Environmental Analysis Lab; Irish, Quebecois and New England folk music by members of MoCA Jam; apple picking; and a kids' table in the apple orchard.
Hopkins Forest hosts a variety community workshops and outdoor programs throughout the year. In late winter, Maple Fest celebrates the art of old-fashioned sugaring and ushers in the new season, and spring sees the return of Williams College alumni for a daylong program of outdoor activities.
"Through the seasons, every month or so we'll have a program," Jones said. "But our big ones are Fall Festival and then Maple Fest." He noted that Alumni Day is also a major event, but typically does not involve the general public.
Jones said he tries to choose a day for Fall Festival that does not coincide with other seasonal events, which often begin in October. (This year's Fall Foliage Parade in North Adams is Sunday, Oct. 6).
"But having a good day is really key," he said. "You can't beat a 70-degree day at the end of September."
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