Trailhead, accessible trail taking shape on Mount Tom

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  • Easthampton City Planner Jeff Bagg, left, Conservation Agent Cassie Tragert and Dan Shaw, a landscape architect with Dodson & Flinker, visit the lookout area at the city's Mount Tom Trailhead Park, with views to the north and west, on Wednesday. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Jose Francisco Flores, with Gagliarducci Construction, of Indian Orchard, spreads a layer of loam along a berm near the most prominent switchback of the 2000-foot trail at Mount Tom Trailhead Park in Easthampton on Wednesday, April 13, 2022. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Zac Stupak of Fillion's Landscaping, in Granby, broadcasts grass seed along the sides of the Mount Tom Trailhead Park trail in Easthampton on Wednesday, April 13, 2022. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Easthampton City Planner Jeff Bagg, left, and Dan Shaw, a landscape architect with Dodson & Flinker, make their way up the steepest part of the Mount Tom Trailhead Park in progress off of East Street on Wednesday, April 13, 2022. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • The lookout area at the top of the new Mount Tom Trailhead Park, still under construction, offers views to the west and north including the Connecticut River Oxbow. Photographed on Wednesday, April 13, 2022. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • This berm along the trail of the Mount Tom Trailhead Park in Easthampton is covered with a layer of biodegradable coconut fiber matting to prevent erosion while the grass seed takes hold. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Easthampton City Planner Jeff Bagg points to circular lookout area on a topographical plan of the Mount Tom Trailhead Park on Wednesday, April 13, 2022. The parking lot and entrance for the trail, off of East Street, is indicated at lower right. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Easthampton Conservation Agent Cassie Tragert talks about the Mount Tom Trailhead Park in progress off of East Street on Wednesday, April 13, 2022. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • The lookout area at the top of the new Mount Tom Trailhead Park offers views to the north including the Connecticut River Oxbow and Northampton and to the west including Pomeroy Mountain in Southampton (not pictured). Photographed on Wednesday, April 13, 2022. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • The surface of the 2000-foot Mount Tom Trailhead Park trail in Easthampton is composed of eight inches of crushed stone. Photographed near the start of the trail off East Street on Wednesday, April 13, 2022. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Dan Shaw, left, a landscape architect with Dodson & Flinker, and Easthampton City Planner Jeff Bagg sto to talk in what will be the parking lot of the new Mount Tom Trailhead Park in progress off of East Street in the city on Wednesday, April 13, 2022. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 4/17/2022 8:24:21 PM

EASTHAMPTON — The outlook of an ongoing city project is getting clearer as the Mount Tom North Trailhead Park nears completion.

Since the fall of 2021, the city has been constructing a trail system and recreation area on a 23-acre parcel of land off East Street and next to Mount Tom.

The project, which is a collaboration with Kestrel Land Trust and Pascommuck Conservation Trust, includes the creation of a trailhead, a wheelchair-accessible trail and new parking area off East Street.

“The central feature of the project is to make a trail,” said Dan Shaw, manager of the project and a landscape architect from Dodson & Flinker in Florence. “There aren’t a lot of accessibility-friendly trails in the area that lead to something like an overlook.”

The 2,000-foot hiking trail has been designed to the U.S. Forest Service Trail Accessibility Guidelines, said Shaw. The regulations provide guidance for maximizing accessibility of trails in the National Forest System, while protecting the unique characteristics of their natural setting.

According to the guidelines, the running slope or grade of the trail can be up to 5% for any distance, but not steeper than 12%. No more than 30% of the total trail length can exceed a running slope of 8.33%

“We’ve been working with the natural hillside. We picked the route to traverse along the contour lines instead of straight up to try to find a way that’s as gradual as possible while protecting existing site features at the same time,” said Shaw. “There are a lot of other great accessible trails in the area, but they tend to stay flat on level ground … but this one takes you to an overlook.”

The project is several years in the making. In 2018, the property’s previous owners had intentions of constructing a subdivision of homes. The following year, the city and Kestrel acquired the nearly 24-acre property to create the park for $985,000 — the city purchased a 12.2-acre plot of land and Kestrel purchased an adjacent 11.5-acre parcel.

The two separate parcels off East Street were purchased with a $400,000 Parkland Acquisitions and Renovations for Communities grant, $340,000 in Community Preservation Act funds, an $85,000 conservation partnership grant, $85,000 from the Beveridge Family Foundation and an anonymous donation, and $75,000 from Kestrel and Pascommuck for the initial option agreement, according to City Planner Jeff Bagg. Construction of the project is being handled by Gagliarducci Construction Inc. of Indian Orchard for $550,000, he said.

Once completed, the park will serve as the city’s first official trailhead to the Mount Tom State Reservation and the New England Scenic Trail. Currently, hikers looking to gain access to the New England Scenic Trail have to park on the side of Underhill Avenue to hike.

On Kestrel land, there will be an adjacent unpaved trail on what’s known as Little Mountain for those looking for an easy hike, Bagg said.

The paved parking area will include seven standard parking spaces, one van-accessible parking space and one designated parking spot for handicapped tag holders.

A kiosk will be installed at the trailhead and contain a map of the various features people will be able to access.

Trailblazing

In creating a trail that gradually traverses a property that formerly contained a single-family home and a pool, Shaw said the elements needed to be considered.

The trail was paved with compacted stone dust, which was the most cost-effective material to construct a firm and stable trail with the provided budget, he said.

“It’s not asphalt, so it can erode if water runs across it,” he said. “One of the biggest factors with maintaining a stone dust trail is washout. Some washout is going to be inevitable. But to minimize that, we have created this whole system of swales throughout.”

Swales, which are shallow ditches that are planted with grasses and may have some stone, help to slow water down.

“You’ll see a number of swales as you go up the trail,” said Conservation Agent Cassie Tragert, who has been performing weekly inspections on the site. “These help direct the water so it doesn’t wash everything away … it helps intercept the water and divert it around the trail.”

The Environmental Protection Agency required the city to craft a Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan before the work began that outlines the erosion controls and identifies all the drainage structures. During construction, weekly inspections are performed and after every quarter-inch rain event. The city also issued a stormwater permit for the project.

Further maintenance of the park will be conducted by the city’s Parks and Recreation Department.

The trail will also feature resting areas spread throughout.

Valuable habitat

Another element of the project is habitat restoration/creation, Tragert said.

The site had been abandoned for long enough that it was functioning as a shrubland, but most of the “shrubs,” were young pine and cedar trees, which if left unmanaged, would grow up to 80 feet tall and become a dark forest, said Shaw. In an effort to stabilize that ecosystem, they decided to “reset” the site and cut back the young trees.

“Shrublands are a valuable habitat as they tend to be more uncommon in New England. Certain species of birds prefer to nest in shrublands, so this has some real value,” Shaw said.

After completing the gradual traverse up the trail, hikers are rewarded with views to the west and north that include the Connecticut River Oxbow.

“We wanted to provide access to a trail with a view to people who don’t normally get it — from the beginning, our goal was to make this trail accessible for the widest range of  users as possible,” Bagg said.

The trail is expected to be complete by June and will be opened to the community with a ribbon-cutting ceremony. 

Emily Thurlow can be reached at ethurlow@gazettenet.com.

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