Sunday, May 31, 2015

Washington Mountain Marsh Trail

In Trail Running Western Massachusetts, I profiled 51 of the best sites for trail running in the region, but had to leave out all sorts of other good sites just for space and cost reasons. Sometimes other sites/trails got mentioned in the "nearby" section at the end of each profile, as was the case with Washington Mountain Marsh, which was included in the nearby text at the end of Site 15: Finerty Pond in October Mountain State Forest. This post describes the 3-mile loop at the marsh. While in my opinion it is not one of the "best" trail running routes, for reasons explained below, it is certainly an interesting one.

boardwalk bridges below the beaver dam at Washington Mtn. Marsh in western MA (photo by Ben Kimball)
crossing boardwalk bridges below the beaver dam at Washington Mtn. Marsh

Washington Mountain Marsh was originally intended to be a lake. In the 1980s, a dam was built to create a reservoir, but the dam leaked and the project was abandoned (an extraordinary wasteful expenditure of resources that kind of boggles my mind). Now, beavers have taken over and a large dam impounds a western arm of the basin, creating a lake about half the size of the one intended, along with a wetland that curiously shows ecological characteristics of both a marsh and a peatland. A trail encircles the marsh, utilizing an ever-deteriorating series of wooden boardwalks whenever it crosses open wet areas. The sorry state of the boardwalks is the reason why this route can't be considered a great run, or even a "bonus site" profile, because you really have to slow down and check each plank before walking on it to make sure it won't break, or worse, fly up at one end and smash the friend following you in the face!

The trail starts on the north side of West Branch Rd, more or less right smack in the middle of October Mountain State Forest. We drove in on County Rd from Becket, MA, then veered right at a gate on Lenox-Whitney Place Rd. There is a small parking area with space for about 4-5 vehicles, though overflow parking would be possible in an open field just uphill to the east.

At first, the trail surface is a fine crushed gravel, making it somewhat universally accessible for about a quarter of a mile. Numbered posts match the Interpretive Trail points of interest mapped here. Just past post #3, the trail splits and the surface becomes rougher.

Washington Mountain Marsh Trail
start of the Washington Mountain Marsh trail

Bearing left at the split, the trail quickly descends to the edge of a cove of the open marsh and heads out into it on a long series of boardwalks. The boards are generally in pretty good shape here, but you can see the first hints of the deterioration to come. At the far end, the trail veers right and climbs to a junction with the (former) Knob Loop trail.

Washington Mountain Marsh Trail
boardwalks leading west across the marsh towards Knob Hill

Rant Interlude: The Knob Loop Trail. Perhaps MA DCR will get around to doing trail maintenance at some point, but at the moment the Knob Loop should be avoided at all costs. It is NOT currently maintained, and you will almost certainly lose your way should you try to follow it. I have never seen a worse case of poor trail maintenance, ever, on a trail that is officially still considered open. They really need to get in there and do some work, or close it off. Trout lily leaves and hobblebush branches grow in the trail bed to en extent that suggests the route has not been maintained in well over a decade. Also, many of the trees that blue markers had been nailed to have fallen down and are rotting away on the ground. I realize that DCR is underfunded (which is why they significantly raised fees starting last week), but give me a break. I wish they would stop spending resources on mowing picnic area lawns and put more effort into ensuring basic standards of safety on the trails of state parks and forests.

Anyway. Skipping the Knob Loop, the trail continues west and then north through forest. At marker post #8, a worthwhile spur trail leads a few tenths of a mile right over to a rocky ledge overlooking the middle of the wetland. Originally, a boardwalk path led east from here and formed a shorter route called the Inner Loop, but the water levels have since risen (due to the beavers) and all traces of this former path appear to have been obliterated. Back at post #8, a large sign still indicates that you are starting out on the Outer Loop, which really is now just the outer portion of THE loop.

beaver dam at Washington Mountain Marsh
beaver dam (and several mid-lake lodges in the background)

Heading north, a series of boardwalks and a bridge cross a very wet area and stream below an impressive beaver dam. On the other side, the trail re-enters forest and continues north. As it circles clockwise around the outer perimeter of the marsh, the trail crosses a number of wetland coves on boardwalks in between drier patches of forest. Some of the boardwalks in this section are disintegrating badly, and are definitely in need of repair or replacement soon if the trail is to remain usable. Conditions were dry at the time we visited in late May 2015, but during wetter periods some of the lower boardwalk sections may be wet or inundated.

Overall, the route is very scenic, and makes a great hike or nature walk. It would also make a fantastic 3-mile trail run under the right conditions and if the trail is properly maintained. Hopefully this will be the case again in the near future. At present, however, it cannot really be recommended for running until some of the boardwalk bridges are replaced, especially in the back portion near the northern end of the marsh. Or rather, it can be run, and the woodland portions are in good condition (except for the Knob Loop), but runners in particular should take extreme care to slow down and check the condition of any wooden bog bridge planks before bounding out onto them.

trail map for Washington Mountain Marsh in western Massachusetts

Friday, May 22, 2015

FORWARDED POST: Running Rusieckis: Team USA

Shared from local trail runner Amy Rusiecki's blog:

Running Rusieckis: Team USA: The count down begins - I am now less than 2 weeks away from the 2015 IAU World Trail Championships , where I will be representing the USA....

Thursday, May 14, 2015

2015 Wapack and Back Trail Races

Last year an "equipment issue" (euphemism for My Nikon Crapped Out On Me) kept me from returning to the Wapack and Back Trail Races. Since running the other Wapack Race (from Windblown to Watatic and back) in 2013, I've been wanting to take shots of runners up on the semi-open ridge portion of New Ipswich Mountain, and this year I got the chance.

Ideally the skies would be deep blue with nice puffy white clouds, but it was not to be, sadly. I got a couple of shots like that early on, where, with a little post-processing push, there was nice blue and good cloud contrast. But soon afterwards the weather really changed and it got hazy and muggy. I was definitely not the only one to notice; many runners really began to suffer late in the day. I saw seasoned ultra runners get knocked down pretty hard by the heat (to their credit, many of them got back up and kept going). The other issue of the day was voracious blackflies, which were out in force. I cloned a lot of little fuzzy black dots out of these shots, and they weren't dust or oil spots.

Special cheers to Chris Agbay for being a wicked good volunteer and impromptu first-aid / heat exhaustion helper at the Binney Pond aid station, and to Jesse Veinotte for very successfully pulling off his first race directing gig. Anyway, here's the full photo gallery, and here's a sampling of some of the shots:

Men's 21.5-Mile Trail Race winner Ryan Welts on New Ipswich Mtn. in the Wapack Range

Women's 21.5-Mile Trail Race winner Kristina Folcick-Welts on New Ipswich Mtn. in the Wapack Range

Jeremy Merritt on New Ipswich Mtn. in the Wapack Range

A 50-mile ultra trail racer on New Ipswich Mtn. in the Wapack Range

Thursday, May 7, 2015

2015 Seven Sisters Trail Race

On May 3rd, for the fourth year in a row, I got out onto the course to take photos of the insanely challenging 7 Sisters Trail Race in the Holyoke Range of western Massachusetts. I caught shots of everyone in the open powerline swath just before the turnaround, and then zipped around to the finish to catch as many varied shots of the final descent as I could. Here's the full photo gallery, and here's a sampling of what I got:  

2015 Seven Sisters Trail Race

crowd support at the 2015 Seven Sisters Trail Race

7 Sisters Trail Race finish

7 Sisters Trail Race

2015 Seven Sisters Trail Race finish

2015 Seven Sisters Trail Race finish

2015 Seven Sisters Trail Race finish

2015 Seven Sisters Trail Race finish

Friday, May 1, 2015

Thanks for your support!

Dear trail running friends,

I hope that people are finding Trail Running Western Massachusetts to be a useful and enjoyable resource. I certainly had a great time researching and creating it, and am very encouraged that so far people seem to be digging it.

As you might expect, it’s a fairly niche book category. The geographic area is relatively small, and the number of trail runners is only a fraction of the number of runners out there (though I hope some hikers discover it too). So I’m writing to ask for your help.

Through word of mouth and good buzz, you have the power to help the book succeed, and to make future editions and/or companion guides possible. If you have the time, please consider writing and posting an online review. Do you like it? Are there things you don't like? I’d love to hear what you think; your honest, thoughtful feedback would be extremely welcome. Here’s a link to the book’s page on Amazon:

Thank you so much for checking out Trail Running Western Massachusetts, and for all your support.

Ben Kimball