There are a lot of things to love about Western Massachusetts. On the occasions we have visited, Katja and I have been impressed by the friendliness of its people and the abundance of good food and cultural opportunities. Moreover, we fell in love with the way that farmland and conservation space are integrated into a stunning patchwork of dense woods and idyllic rolling fields. The best part was that we, too, could afford to have our own small plot of land, something that would be nearly impossible for us in the eastern part of the state. After much searching and a few visits to get to know the area, we found a colonial farmhouse on 2.5 acres, complete with detached garage, workshop, and three story historic barn. It seemed like the perfect space for us to do some hobby farming and cultivate a connection with the land.
Of course, as they say, real estate is all about location, location, location. It was not enough to find a beautiful home on an ideal plot of land. Katja and I needed to explore the area to ensure that the infrastructure and local amenities could accommodate our lifestyle. We started with the town, Granville, which is a cute and welcoming little agricultural hamlet situated where the foothills of the Berkshires just begin to rise away from the Connecticut River Valley. Like many small American towns, Granville has its share of events intended to maintain a sense of community. There are harvest festivals, parades, local art shows, a town flea market, and (last but not least) the Gran-Val Scoop – a family owned farm and dairy where you can eat delicious homemade ice cream while visiting the resident goats, mini horses, llamas, pigs, and cows.
After touring the town a bit, we immediately began searching for the nearest place to go hiking. It will come as no surprise to anyone who knows us that we were eager to stretch our legs and discover a wilderness space to call our own. We didn’t have to look far; Granville State Forest was a mere 12 minute drive down the road. We wound our way over gradual hills and past numerous family farms advertising fresh produce, eggs, pork, honey, and maple syrup products. After a few miles we turned off the main road and found ourselves on a well-groomed dirt road leading us into the heart of this 2,426 acre forest.
Our hike began on the Beaver Pond Loop Trail, which took us beneath thick pine trees that reminded me a bit of the Sierra foothills. The trees pulled back briefly to give us views of a small creek where, presumably, the beavers made their home. The trail turned uphill and away from the water, and soon we found ourselves in the mixed hardwood-conifer forest so common to the area. The trail was lovely, the air quiet and calm, and for a while we hiked in contented silence.
We soon found ourselves on the Stateline Trail, which turned out to be the only unpleasant part of our hike. It was clear that the “trail” was really just a cleared swath where a gas pipeline had been installed. Since the route needed to be kept clear, someone figured thy might as well call it a trail. However, the steepness of the hills and the lack of maintenance made for treacherous footing. Worse, where the trail leveled out, soggy patches formed perfect breeding grounds for mosquitos and ticks.
After a mile or so, we returned to the stream, just east of where we had started. We rounded out our hike by paralleling the rugged banks of the creek, marveling as we went at the gnarled trees surrounding us and their dew jeweled canopies overhead. By the time we reached the car, we knew what a special place this forest was (albeit one where we would have to carefully select which trails we worth hiking). On our way out of the forest we stopped into the administration building, where we met the head ranger. He gave us some maps and friendly advice, including a warning about letting Murphy off leash, where he might have a run in with porcupines. He also encouraged us to try snowshoeing in the winter, and extended an open invitation to stop by after a cold hike for a fireside chat and a free cup of coffee. Could you ask for a more inviting wilderness experience so close to home?
As I write this, Katja and I are hesitant to get too excited about Graville and its surrounds. We still have to do inspections on the house, and you never know what might crop up when buying a house built in 1856. Still, we are cautiously optimistic, and looking forward to exploring more of Granville Forest, even if we don’t end up living next door.