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Five serene treks that can promote physical and mental well-being

  • A walking path at Atkins Reservoir in Amherst Staff Photo/Andy Castillo

  • A path at Atkins Reservoir in Amherst, across the street from the entrance to the Robert Frost Trail, is a beautiful place for a peaceful walk. Staff Photo/Andy Castillo

  • A trail near Fitzgerald Lake in Northampton Staff Photo/Andy Castillo

  • The dock at Fitzgerald Lake provides a quiet respite. Staff Photo/Andy Castillo

  • Mowed paths crisscross 28 acres at The Arthur F. Kinney Center for Interdisciplinary Renaissance Studies in Amherst. Staff Photo/Andy Castillo

  • Overlooking the grounds of The Arthur F. Kinney Center for Interdisciplinary Renaissance Studies in Amherst. Staff Photo/Andy Castillo

  • A section of the Fort River Birding and Nature Trail in Hadley. Staff Photo/Andy Castillo

  • A section of the Fort River Birding and Nature Trail in Hadley. Staff Photo/Andy Castillo

  • Reporter Andy Castillo takes a walk at one of his favorite spots, Mass Audubon’s Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary in Easthampton. STAFF PHOTO/SARAH CROSBY

  • Gazette reporter Andy Castillo walks the trails at Mass Audubon’s Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary in Easthampton. STAFF PHOTO/SARAH CROSBY

  • Gazette reporter Andy Castillo climbs the stairs to the viewing tower at Mass Audubon’s Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary in Easthampton. STAFF PHOTO/SARAH CROSBY

  • Gazette reporter Andy Castillo photographs from the viewing tower at Mass Audubon’s Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary in Easthampton. STAFF PHOTO/SARAH CROSBY

  • The view from the tower at Mass Audubon’s Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary in Easthampton. STAFF PHOTO/SARAH CROSBY

  • A deer crosses a trail Aug. 3, 2018 at Mass Audubon’s Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary in Easthampton. STAFF PHOTO/SARAH CROSBY



@AndyCCastillo
Monday, August 06, 2018

Ahead in a clearing lies a pine tree. Sunlight, filtering down through a leafy canopy illuminates its bare branches. There’s nothing to be heard but the gentleness of wind and the sweet trill of birdsong, which echos through towering oak trunks and across the many vernal pools scattered throughout Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary.

I’ve walked through these woods many times, having grown up in Northampton near the Big Y shopping plaza on King Street. Not far away, a great blue heron stalks cautiously forward into a tributary of the Mill River, startling a deer, which raises its head from grazing in the reeds. Peace reigns over the clearing for a little while. But it doesn’t last.

It’s broken, suddenly, by two squirrels. They leap, one after the other, down from a tree and into dry leaves that outline a narrow path ahead of me, which winds on for four miles through the nature preserve’s 724 acres, which is spread across Northampton and Easthampton.

While familiar, the scene never gets old. And, even though I’ve watched Hampshire County’s commercial industry and its neighborhoods expand over the last few decades, I still find it easy to escape into the quietness of nature, for my physical and mental health, on readily accessible trails throughout the region.

Below are a few of my favorites, close to my hometown, where I still escape to for a peaceful walk.

 

Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary, Easthampton

The trails at Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary, maintained by the Massachusetts Audubon Society, are open to the public from dawn until dusk. The preserve’s terrain is diverse, ranging from forest, to grasslands, to wetlands, and the walking paths aren’t too strenuous. Native flora is prevalent along the trails, as is wildlife, which can be viewed from a tower overlooking the Mill River.

A variety of trails, which include an 850-foot loop over crushed stone with a guide rope along the side, are accessible from a parking area at 127 Combs Road in Easthampton. Next to the parking area, there’s a nature center where events are held throughout the year. Audio tours that coincide with the trails can be listened to by calling 413-272-0006. Admission is $4 for adults and $3 for children and seniors. Members are free.

Directions: Arcadia Wildlife Sactuary is at 127 Combs Road, Easthampton. From Route 10, turn onto Lovefield Street, which isn’t far from Valley Recycling, take a left onto Clapp Street, another left onto Old Springfield Road, and an immediate left onto Combs Road. From East Street, turn onto Fort Hill Road, pass Fort Hill Brewery, take a right onto Old Springfield Road, and an immediate left onto Combs Road.

 

Fitzgerald Lake Conservation Area, Northampton

The dock at Fitzgerald Lake, which is about a two- minute walk from a parking area at North Farms Road in Northampton, provides a quick respite from the busyness of life. Even though it’s not far from a few of the Pioneer Valley’s main thoroughfares, with Route 9 on one side and Route 5 on the other, while standing at the end of the dock surrounded by reeds, it feels as though you’re miles from civilization.

From the dock, a two-mile trail leads around the lake to a dam on the other side, and from there, another mile or so of trail connects to a second parking area at the former Moose Lodge off of Cooke Avenue. The lake itself is artificial, and shallow, created when the dam was made in the 1960s. Growing up, jogging to the dam from the Moose Lodge, or around the lake from North Farms Road to Cook Avenue, were favorite running and mountain biking routes of mine. The trail system, which includes a shorter loop that takes about 10 to 15 minutes to walk near the dock, can also be accessed from Marian Street and Coles Meadow Road. Trails are mostly protected from the sun by forest canopy and traverse rocky sections and cross small sections of grassland and wind through the woods that surround the lake.

Wildlife can be seen from various lookout points along the way, including a wildlife observation blind, and sections of the trail pass close by large swamps. The conservation area is maintained by the Broad Brook Coalition, a nonprofit organization, and the Northampton Conservation Commission.

More information on walking the trails, which are free and open to the public, can be found at www.broadbrookcoalition.org.

Directions:61 North Farms Road, Northampton. The North Farms Road access point has gravel-lot parking, and features an accessible paved path, bridge and boardwalk out to the dock. 196 Cooke Avenue (former Moose Lodge, up behind the Northampton Walmart), features an entry point to the trails and street parking on the right side of an unpaved lot. Marian Street: Entrance and street parking. Coles Meadow Road: Entrance and street parking.

Robert Frost Trail, Amherst

While there are many sections of the Robert Frost Trail, which stretches 47 miles from South Hadley to Wendell, my favorite section can be found just off of Cushman Road in Amherst next to the Atkins Reservoir. Across from the trailhead is a short walking path that leads along the reservoir’s edge, which is another beautiful place for a peaceful and short walk.

The natural colors along the trail are vivid and change with each season. In the spring, aquatic plants pop from the blue water in vibrant yellow tones.

Summertime brings a Jurassic torrent of green that’s tempered come fall by the rustic orange grace of autumn. And in the winter, the redness of dead leaves lining narrow streams, bubbling from the adjacent Adams Brook, contrasts with the whiteness of untouched snow.

The trail is aptly named in honor of Frost, the great American poet, as it highlights the simple beauty of New England’s woods. I often escape here, alone, to find inspiration in nature. A few other sections of the Robert Frost Trail that I particularly appreciate include one that leads around Puffers Pond, and another in Sunderland at the Mount Toby State Forest near Cranberry Pond, which has a beautiful trail system, albeit a little challenging, of its own.

Directions: Area of 60 Cushman Road, Amherst. The entrance to the Robert Frost Trail is on the right, across from the Atkins Reservoir, and there’s a narrow pull-off for parking nearby. From Bridge Street, which passes by Cushman Common and Cushman Market and Cafe and turns into East Leverett Road, turn right onto Market Hill Road. From there, drive straight about a mile and a half, continuing on after the street turns into Cushman Road, to the pull-off.

The Arthur F. Kinney Center for Interdisciplinary Renaissance Studies, Amherst

Mowed paths crisscross 28 sprawling acres at the Arthur F. Kinney Center for Interdisciplinary Renaissance Studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. From a house built to look like a Renaissance cottage, home to the center, the paths sweep down a grassy hill filled with native flora and birds, which dive after crickets and other insects. At the top, next to a period era garden, a few of the trails lead into a wooded section.

It’s a beautiful place for an evening walk around sunset because of the expansive view from the top, and because many of the walking paths are completely exposed to the sun. The trails are open to the public all the time, but the center, at 650 East Pleasant St., Amherst, is only open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. At closing time, a gate at Pleasant Street is locked, and any cars still in the parking lot must call campus police to get out. Elsewhere, cars can also park on nearby side streets.

Directions:650 East Pleasant St., Amherst, not far from the North Amherst Fire Station and the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s main campus. The center has a gravel lot, which closes at 5 p.m., and there’s additional parking at nearby streets such as Sherman Lane, which is across the road.

Fort River Birding and Nature Trail, Hadley

A one-mile-long pathway, carved into the landscape, leads through diverse habitats, ranging from grasslands to wetlands and forest, at the Fort River Birding and Nature Trail in Hadley, which is in the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge. The path, which was completed a few years ago, is mostly gravel, graded to accommodate wheelchairs, and traverses over vernal pools and woodland areas that would otherwise be inaccessible.

The pathway itself is beautiful — sometimes it’s elevated on stilts — carefully designed to highlight quintessential elements of Connecticut River’s watershed, such as tributaries, vernal pools, and the surrounding forest. At a few different points along the way there are shaded gazebos and platforms with seating areas that overlook particularly beautiful areas for birdwatching.

It’s the perfect place for a morning or afternoon walk, although it can be hot at times because some sections of trail aren’t covered. Come evening, especially in the spring and summer months, mosquitos are out in force.

Directions: 63 Moody Bridge Road, Hadley. From South Maple Street, which is one of the back roads to the Hampshire Mall from Northampton, turn onto Moody Bridge Road at the four-way stop sign. The nature trail is at the end of a dirt turn-off on the right, as indicated by a small sign.

​​​​​​​Andy Castillo can be reached at acastillo@gazettenet.com.