Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Bonus Site: Chapel Brook to DAR Trail

My new guidebook Trail Running Western Massachusetts (click here to view the book's page on Amazon) profiles 51 of the best trail running sites in the region. It was a challenge to whittle the final list to be included in the book down to just 51 sites, and some sites that I really like had to be cut for a variety of reasons. There were even a couple of "deleted scenes" where a site profile had actually been written but the trail got cut in favor of including a different site. As promised earlier, I will be posting some of those sites here and linking to them from the book's Facebook page. Consider them "bonus sites" in addition to the ones included in the book.

In this case, the trail profiled is a relatively little traveled local favorite. Located just a ways up the road from where we live, it is very fun to run and we like to run it often. I've actually written about it on this blog before here. The reason it got cut from the book was that the two sites it connects did get included, and there were just too many profiles lumped into one part of the region. Anyway, end of blathery introduction. Enjoy! 

Chapel Brook to DAR Trail

Distance: 4–6 miles, with several options for more at either end
Difficulty rating: Moderate
Trail style: Out-and-back
Trail type: Singletrack
Towns: Ashfield / Goshen


This 3-mile trail connects The Trustees of Reservations’ (TTOR’s) Chapel Brook Reservation in Ashfield to the to D.A.R. State Forest in Goshen. Roaming across a variety of terrain types, it’s interesting both geographically and ecologically. As an out-and-back run it makes for a greater medium-intensity workout on its own, and has several potential turn-around spots for shorter workouts as well as an option to make a longer loop out of it at the far end. At present, the trail is saddled with the rather unwieldy official name of "Chapel Brook Reservation to DAR State Forest Trail," which is shortened slightly here for ease of use. Conceived as a way to link trail networks on two larger conservation properties, it was created as a collaboration by the Town of Ashfield, TTOR, and the Franklin Land Trust. The trail passes by several rustic wooden benches, crosses a couple of scenic streams, skirts a pond, and comes close to two old stone foundations. It's all very runnable, and it’s a real pleasure to run on this trail. It can be combined with a five-mile out-and-back on the Two Bridges Trail (see Site 25: Two Bridges Trail on p. 107 of Trail Running Western Massachusetts) for an 11-mile run with a water stop back at your vehicle in the middle. It can also be combined with a  roughly 2-mile loop (the Moose Run Trail) at its western end at D.A.R. State Forest. Larger loops at D.A.R. are possible too, any of which would make for a very nice long, scenic, and fun trail run (see D.A.R. State Forest on p. 103 of Trail Running Western Massachusetts).

Site map (click to link to larger version):
map of the Chapel Brook to DAR Trail
NOTE: This is what the "enhanced maps" that you can link to with the QR codes (those little pixelated black squares on the maps in the book) look like.

Directions: The parking area at Chapel Brook Falls is about 7 miles north of Rte. 9 in Williamsburg on North Street (which becomes Ashfield Rd, then becomes Williamsburg Rd), and about 2 miles south of Rte. 116 in Ashfield on Williamsburg Rd. In the pullouts on either side of the road (on opposite sides of the brook), there is parking for about ten cars.

Trail: From the parking lot along the Ashfield/Williamsburg Rd, a wide doubletrack trail leads up the slope to the west from a locked metal gate and soon arrives at a junction below Chapel Ledges on Pony Mountain. A large wooden signboard offers information about the ecology and history of the area and encourages responsible recreational practices for climbers at the ledges.

Optional Extension (~0.5 miles): From the big sign, a set of wooden steps cut into the hillside leads up to the base of the ledges. This site is very popular with rock climbers, and it's easy to see why. From the base of the ledges you can take either leg of a loop trail that goes to the summit. Going straight up the steeper part, the trail ascends along the base of the ledges via a series of impressively constructed log cribs. Near the top, a spur path leads up to the actual top of the knob. The true summit is mostly forested, but the tops of the steep ledges are open and there are very nice views to the southwest from there. From the spur path junction, the loop trail continues traversing along the west side of the hill and soon swings back around and drops down to the saddle below, where it then heads south over occasional loose rocks back to the start of the loop. 
     Behind the sign, a barely noticeable singletrack trail heads southwest up the slope to the west. The trail gently rises and falls, but in general it climbs as it heads towards D.A.R. State Forest. Early on, it passes by several rustic wooden benches, crosses a couple of scenic streams, and comes close to a few large boulders and lichen-encrusted ledges. 
     About 0.5 miles from the start, the trail crosses a stream on a wooden bridge and then begins a sustained climb up the east side of a hill. Swinging around a southern ridge and turning north briefly, the grade levels off and you proceed across an upland area with a series of short dips down into small drainage swales. At one point, the trail swings left (south) and briefly coincides with the route of the Old County Road that connected Williamsburg to Ashfield. Then it bears right off the old road and continues west. You will cross and/or parallel several old stone walls in this section too. The well-marked trail zig-zags past several intersections with unofficial side trails, and, at 2.0 miles from the start, arrives at West Road. 
     Cross West Road (go a few feet to the left/south and pick up the trail at the far end of the guardrail) and then follow the trail around the edge of a wetland, across a scenic woodland stream on a bridge, and through a marshy area on boardwalks. Continuing west and climbing gently, the very well-constructed trail uses several long sections of plank bridges to cross a few perennially wet areas. At about 2.8 miles, the trail skirts the south side of a beaver pond, where a very short spur leads across planks to a wooden bench overlooking the water (Note: as of October 2014, the beaver pond had drained and had become more of a marsh). From the pond, the trail briefly dips just below the beaver dam and then climbs 0.2 miles to its end at a junction with the Moose Run Trail in D.A.R. State Forest. 

Lush ferns along the eastern (lower) end of the Chapel Brook to D.A.R. Trail


Bridge along the Chapel Brook to D.A.R. Trail

The Chapel Brook to D.A.R. Trail briefly paralleling a stone wall

Switchback along the Chapel Brook to D.A.R. Trail

Boardwalk section of the Chapel Brook to D.A.R. Trail

short spur to a bench by a beaver pond along the Chapel Brook to D.A.R. Trail

Ashfield Trails, a volunteer collaborative with an impressive history of recent trail work, has also created a map of this trail. 

Monday, April 20, 2015

Exploring Honolulu

Honolulu Trail at Pittsfield State Forest in western MA (photo by Ben Kimball, 2015)
A leaf-off vista from a sharp switchback about 2/3 of the way up the Honolulu Trail

Pittsfield State Forest is just loaded with excellent trail running possibilities. I profiled one great loop in Trail Running Western Massachusetts. Here is a quick recap of a second sweet option.

This past Sunday, Jen and I headed an hour west from home, over the central Berkshires, to the base of the Taconic Ridge along the NY/MA state line. We parked at the spacious Lulu Brook picnic area in Pittsfield State Forest, joining a handful of other vehicles that were parked there (most with empty bike racks suggesting mountain bikers). After chatting briefly with Keith from the Arcadian Shop who was getting ready for an early season ride, we set out on the start of our 6-7 mile trail run.

The base of the Honolulu Trail (presumably named as a clever combination of the nearby Honwee Loop and Lulu Brook Trails?) isn't hard to find, but it does help to have some hints. To reach it, you head due east from the center of the parking lot, just a little bit downslope from the old cabin. After passing a rough old road that is the base of the eastern side of the Honwee Loop Trail, you come to a second old road heading left. Here, a narrow singletrack trail leads left as well. This is the base of the Honolulu Trail.

For 3 miles, the Honolulu Trail steadily climbs the southeast ridge of Honwee Mountain via a series of well-constructed switchbacks. The grade was gentle enough that we were able to run the entire way, albeit at a very slow pace. Along the way, the singletrack trail repeatedly crosses the old road / Honwee Loop Trail, which in comparison is rough and steep and straight and really, really boring. The two trails share the same route in two places, once about halfway up where the the slope levels out briefly, and again at the top.

At 2,309 ft., the summit of Honwee Mountain is one of the highest points around on this part of the Taconic Ridge. There are no views, though we could occasionally catch glimpses of nearby ridges and peaks through the still leafless trees.

Just past the summit, the singletrack trail veers left and desends the northwest slope for a quarter mile or so, crossing over the loop trail once and briefly joining the "Old Timer" trail in a saddle. A brand new section then leads right and slabs across a slope to meet up with a trail very near the top of the Lulu Brook Trail. A nice option would be to take the William Berry Way and Taconic Crest trails to the summit of Berry Mtn. from here, but due to occasional patches of leftover snow, we chose to take the Taconic Skyline Trail south up the top of Turner Trail. This rough old road has been heavily chewed up by ORVs and is not very fun to run, but it did serve as a useful connector for us.

Descending the Turner Trail is extremely fun. At first, the path is a mostly flat grassy lane along the crest of the ridge. After about a quarter mile, a short spur leads left to a vista overlooking the northern end of Onota Lake. Just past the vista spur, a singletrack path veers left off the main trail. Both paths appear to be named Turner Trail, but in my opinion the straight one should just be discontinued for all but winter use (it's pretty rough and eroded). As we flew down the 2 miles of rocky and rooty switchbacks, I was just ahead of Jen and at one point I heard her say "Well this is basically just too fun for words."

We sailed right past the 5-way junction where I had intended for us to go left in order to make use of the longer gentler switchback path just to the north (Roller Coaster), but it didn't matter. The trail became less rocky near the bottom, and we really were flying around the tight turns and along the short straight stretches. At the 4-way junction, we took a left and returned to the parking lot via the trail that crosses just above the old ski jump.

This is a very highly recommended trail run. Presumably it would be just as fun in the opposite direction, and probably even more fun if an extra mile was added to it at the top (using the William Berry Way, Taconic Crest, and Berkshire Ranger trails).

Monday, April 6, 2015

Springtime Trail Running

Every year, I struggle with finding the right balance between 1.) dying to get back out on dirt trails and 2.) leaving those trails be for a bit as the snow melts and mud season reigns. I know it's not good for the trails to be out on them when they're most vulnerable. It's hard, though; I love trail running!

So I find compromises. I run dirt roads and I run carriage roads, both of which can be a bit muddy too, and could probably benefit from some fallow time as well, and sometimes I'll tackle ski trails. Today I parked at the base of Mt. Tom near the Mtn. Park entrance to Whiting Reservoir and ran up one side of the old ski area to the summit ridge, then back down the other, and then around Whiting for some extra mileage. A mixed difficulty / mixed terrain workout that was initially challenging (sometimes straight up the slope), then delightful (on the roller-coastery descent), and finally easy and smooth (for the lap around the lake).

old ski trail at Mt. Tom in Holyoke, MA (photo by Ben Kimball)
the view about halfway down the southern ski slope at Mt. Tom in early April

Friday, April 3, 2015

Real Recovery

It's early April, after one of the toughest winters around here in recent memory (I love winter, but even I'll admit this one was pretty long and cold), and I'm recovering. In a couple of ways.

First, I'm back on my feet again after sustaining a stress fracture last November (an injury which came a mere 3 months into a recovery from a previous injury). This week I'll have run 20 miles. The previous 2 weeks were only 15 miles each. But this is good, hopefully. Smart recovery. I'm really easing into it this time. I don't want to make the mistake of jumping back in too fast and risking re-injury. I just couldn't take that, not again. I still feel a dull ache in my left foot, and it almost seems like there's a small marble I need to work out beneath the ball of my left foot, but it's very slowly getting better. Fingers crossed.

Second, I'm recovering financially. After getting laid off about 2 years ago and then wrestling with the twin horrors of unemployment and the rollout of the Massachusetts healthcare website, I got a part-time editing job and have been doing the race photography that gets mentioned a lot on this blog. But it hasn't been enough. I also spent a lot of time last year researching, writing, and creating the western MA trail running guidebook, and that's an investment that won't pay off for a while. The huge heating oil bills this past winter didn't help. So I've also been writing occasional articles and doing various contract work to make ends meet. Hopefully this is all gonna work out.

So, where to from here? I'll keep running until I lose some of these extra pounds that have appeared and feel ready to sign up for a race or two again. Then I would really like to try out some new trail races and explore new trails in the greater New England area. Maybe get another book proposal out the door, and... who knows? Maybe 2015 will turn out to be the year that I wanted 2014 to be.