Sledding Hills in Western MA

5 Hikes for Families in Western MA State Forests and Parks

Take a Hike!
Explore the State Forests and Parks of Western MA

Outdoor explorations can also supplement students’ studies of local ecology – bring a field guide and learn to identify the many different trees, flowers, etc. that you discover.  (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

Explore the hills of Western Massachusetts – spend an afternoon hiking at one of the many local state forests and parks!  The Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) offers families an outline of hikes at numerous locations all over the Hilltowns and Berkshires, including the DAR State Forest (Goshen, MA), Western Gateway Heritage State Park (North Adams, MA), Pittsfield State Forest (Pittsfield, MA), Mohawk Trail State Forest (Charlemont, MA), and the Tolland State Forest (Otis, MA).

Their guide, Take a Hike! Explore the State Forests and Parks of Western MA,  shares information on finding and following trails, as well as length of hike, difficulty, and interesting highlights that families can see, explore, and learn about on each trail.  Hikes make a great summer adventure for families, but are also great through the fall (until it snows, then break out the snowshoes!) and in spring, as leaves begin to appear.  Explore the many different hikes suggested, and find a family favorite!

Outdoor explorations can also supplement students’ studies of local ecology – bring a field guide and learn to identify the many different trees, flowers, etc. that you discover.  To check out the hikes, download their guide,  Take a Hike! Explore the State Forests and Parks of Western MA.

RECOMMENDED GUIDES FOR BEGINNERS:

Golden Guides from St. Martin’s Press are beginner field guides that offer an introduction to different outdoor classifications that are easy to used for any family just starting their outdoor explorations together. Pick up a guide on a particular topic your kids are interested in exploring while hiking our local state forests and parks, and go on a quest together to find and identify parts of our natural habitats:

Five Ways Families Can Enjoy MA State Parks

Western MA State Forests: Where Shall We Go Today?

How can families enjoy our state parks… let me count the way! Gini Traub, Regional Environmental Education Coordinator at Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation recently shared with Hilltown Families five different family initiatives they offer at our state parks.  These initiatives encourage families to explore the diverse natural, cultural and recreational resources our state parks provide:

Great Parks Pursuit

The Great Park Pursuit (GPP) is a free family adventure, connecting families, or teams, with their state parks. Hike to amazing views, step back in time, uncover stories in stone, cast away, explore the night sky, and much more. Visit www.mass.gov/dcr/gpp for information or to register your team. Teams who earn stickers from programs in six different GPP categories are invited to the Grand Finale on September 10. Eligible teams can also enter a lottery for great prizes!

Discovery Packs for Families

Make your own adventure at participating parks. Each Pack has the supplies and information you need to get started. Look for birds; examine the rocks, explore streams, ponds, woods and fields, [learn about some of the critters that inhabit our parks]. Stop by the park’s Visitor Center or speak with the Park Interpreter to see what what’s available. Parks include DAR State Forest in Goshen, Mount Greylock in Lanesborough, Tolland in East Otis, Mount Tom in Holyoke, Skinner in Hadley, Mount Holyoke Range, and Erving State Forest and others.

Park Passport

Massachusetts has one of the largest and most diverse state park systems in the country! Document your travels with passport stamps of original artwork depicting a special feature of participating parks. Make it into an adventure, and create lasting memories. Visit www.mass.gov/dcr/passport for information and to download your free passport. “Where shall we go today?”

Healthy Heart Trails

Walk at your own pace on gentle terrain. DCR’s Healthy Heart Trails are designed for people who would like to walk but may not be sure where to begin. There are over 70 designated Healthy Heart Trails in Massachusetts State Forest and Parks, so there is one near you. Most are less than 1.5 miles. Visit www.mass.gov/dcr/recreate/hht and look for the green and white healthy heart trail symbol.

Self-Guided Family Hikes

So many trails! Which ones to choose? Visit the DCR website, www.mass.gov/dcr/recreate/trails. Click on “Self-Guided Hikes” for Western, Central, Southeast, and Blue Hills Massachusetts State Forests and Parks. Brochures describe a selection ranging from easy to strenuous and highlight what makes each trail special. “It’s your choice.”

Q&A: Where’s a Good Sledding Hill in Western MA?

Question and Answer

Wanted: Sledding hill for the preK kids that isn’t too steep nor too many big kids. Check out or reader recommendations below, and share your own recommendation here.

  • Kara Kitchen recommends: Look Park (Florence, MA)
  • Jara Malikin recommends: We love JFK (Northampton, MA) and in fact, just came from there. There is enough room for everyone to spread out and it’s clear at the bottom of the hill (i.e,. no trees to dodge).
  • Erika recommends: The hill behind Mary Dryden Memorial Elementary school (Springfield) is great. fun enough for little or big kids. Very few people there when we have gone, even on the weekends. Also, across the street, there is a great hill behind Cathedral High School.
  • Cultural Pittsfield recommends: Clapp Park in Pittsfield is terrific!
  • Robin Sidel recommends: GCC (Greenfield Community College).
  • Sienna Wildfield recommends: The Worthington Golf Course and the Bryant Homestead in Cummington, MA.
  • Jeanne Barron recommends: Clarke Schools for the Deaf (Northampton, MA)- a  little steep but a really long run at the end so lots of room to go… (not crowded but don’t tell too many people!)
  • Faith Ann recommends: Beacon Field, Greenfield
  • Michael Chabler recommends: For my son, I just took one of those small, round sleds and tied a rope through its handle. Then I pulled him on a flat, snow-covered surface. He had a blast.
  • Kristen Handschuh recommends: Behind the middle school in Amherst. Located on Chestnut St.
  • Bob Clancy recommends: The hill behind the Rowe Elementary School is a blast! Young and old will enjoy it. Park in the parking lot after school or on weekends.
  • Christa Figueroa recommends: HCC (Holyoke Community College) is great for all ages. Depending on where you decide to start from you can have a very small slide down or a very steep slide. Our family really likes it.
  • Susan Wessels recommends: Chester Elementary has a great hill for anyone up in the hilltowns.
  • Amanda Saklad recommends: We just got home from the great hill behind Stop and Shop in Belchertown – GREAT hill. lots of families. Yesterday was the hill at Crocker Farm in Amherst (Rte 116) – easy parking at the school.
  • April Albrecht recommends: There’s a great hill behind Stop n Shop off of Route 9 in Belchertown! Just turn onto George Hannum Rd and go straight. Vere right after you go under the little bridge and you’ll see the hill on your right!
  • Jim McSweeney recommends: Try the hill behind the school near the brewery in Williamsburg.
  • Mandy Gerry recommends: Hospital Hill in Northampton! Beautiful view from the top, too!
  • Kristen recommends: Behind the middle school in Amherst on Chestnut St. Plus, there is within walking distance two more hills in fields of middle school and wild wood elementary school.

Have a favorite sledding hill in Western MA you’d like to share.  Post it in the comment field for other families to discover too.

Winter Trails Days: Outdoor Snow Sports for the Family

UPDATE:  WINTER TRAILS DAY AT NOTCHVIEW RESCHEDULED FOR SATURDAY, JAN 22, 2011

Due to the thin snow cover, most Winter Trails Day events are being rescheduled from Saturday, January 8 to Saturday, January 22 at Notchview on Route 9, Windsor, MA. On January 8th, the free “Winter Woods” snowshoe hike will take place as planned at 1:30 p.m. All other free events will take place on Saturday, January 22 , between 10:00 AM to 3:00 PM. A special ½ price trail fee is offered to everyone on January 22, first time visitors are free. Snowshoes will be available for free to try out for up to two hours.

Winter Trails Day at Notchview
Free Snow Sport Events for the Family
Saturday, January 8th, 2011 Rescheduled for January 22nd, 2011

“At Notchview we strive to create a community of skiers of all abilities who love the outdoors. Winter Trails Day is a great opportunity for someone thinking about trying cross-country skiing or snowshoeing to jump in,” according to Jim Caffrey, the superintendent of Notchview Reservation. “Outdoor exercise is a great way to beat the winter blues and pick up your spirits. Nordic skiing is a low-impact, healthy sport for men and women of all ages. The lessons will cover everything from the basics: how to dress; how to get your skis on and off and how to get up after falling; to more advanced topics like proper form and balance. Plenty of skiers will be on hand to provide advice and support.” (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

The Trustees of Reservations invite everyone to try out a snow sport on Winter Trails Day. Free events will take place at Notchview on Route 9, Windsor, MA on Saturday, January 8th January 22nd, from 10am-3pm. Snowshoes will be available for free to try out for up to two hours. Free cross-country ski lessons and trail use will be offered for beginner and intermediate skiers at 10:30am and again at 1:30pm. At 11am there will be a waxing clinic covering both waxable and no-wax skis. Find out why no-wax skis should be waxed and how to find the proper ski fit. A good fitting pair of cross-country skis can make or break your skiing experience. At 1:30pm The Trustees volunteers will lead a one-hour “Winter Woods” snowshoe hike. A special ½ price trail fee is offered to everyone; first time visitors are free.

People can venture out for a Nordic orienteering game where they ski along Notchview’s scenic trails, following a map to reach marked locations. Each location has a unique punch code to record on a game card. Prizes will be awarded based on the number of locations recorded.

ABOUT WINTER TRAILS DAY

Winter Trails Day is a national event to showcase the health benefits of snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. These low-impact aerobic activities incorporate strength and endurance training, and can help people stay active and healthy throughout the winter months when other sports are impossible to pursue.

To enjoy winter sports, dress in layers with a windproof shell or parka as the top layer. Wear sturdy, waterproof winter boots. Snowshoe bindings are designed to strap on over regular boots. Notchview does not have ski rentals on site. Rental ski packages including skis, boots and poles are available in advance from various local ski shop.

ABOUT NOTCHVIEW

Notchview is one of more than 100 Trustees of Reservations properties across the stat with 3,108 acres with 40km of trails (28km groomed), of mostly single-track trails for classical skiing. Skate skiing is available on 10 km of groomed trail, and 2 km of trail are available for dog owners and multi-use. Snowshoe rentals are available for non-skiers, who can trek alongside the groomed tracks. Hot drinks and snacks are available at Notchview. Lunch is available from nearby stores or bring your own. For more information contact Notchview at www.notchview.org or 684-0148. Ski conditions are available from the Notchview phone or at www.xcski.org or www.xcskimass.com. Notchview is open daily from sunrise to sunset, year-round.

First Day Hikes in Western MA

DCR Sponsors First Day Hikes

“What better way to kick off the new year than with a hike at a state park?” said DCR Commissioner Richard K. Sullivan Jr. “Think of it as the start of a new and healthy lifestyle, for the whole family. Please join us outdoors on New Year’s Day.” (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

The Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) will sponsor free “First Day” family hikes in 14 state parks across the Commonwealth on New Year’s Day, as a way to connect children and parents with the great outdoors even – or maybe especially – in winter. Several will be here in Western MA.

First Day hikers can expect to be surrounded by the quiet beauty of nature in winter, with views and vistas unimpeded by foliage. Wildlife that might be spied along these walks will almost certainly include song birds, turkeys and bald eagles. If you do see a Bald Eagle, remember that MassWildlife is holding their Midwinter Bald Eagle survey period right now through January 12, 2011. Everyone who is outdoors and sees an eagle during this time period is encouraged to report his or her sighting! You can send your report to mass.wildlife@state.ma.us. Please provide the date, time, location, and town of eagle sightings, plus the number of birds, whether juvenile or adult, and your contact information.

If you’re lucky (and quiet), you might also catch sight of a red fox, moose, porcupine or fisher.  The Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife Pocket Guide to Animal Tracks can help identify which animals may have passed by.

DCR’s First Day Hikes in Western MA include:

The DCR advises that in preparation for each hike, pay close attention to the details of starting time and location. Dress warmly. Wear layers of clothing and sturdy, warm hiking boots or shoes, as well as hats and gloves. Binoculars always come in handy, and do bring water.

In the event of inclement weather, please call 617-626-1450 after 3 p.m. on December 31 for any possible cancellations.  All hikes will be led by park staff members and will last about two hours. Participants are urged to arrive half an hour early to register. For details, visit www.mass.gov

Other (non-DCR) first day hikes:

  • 10am: First Day 2011 Hike with Williamsburg Woodland Trails at Bradley Sanctuary.  Directions here. 268-7523 Williamsburg, MA (FREE)

Great Parks Pursuit: Outdoor Family Adventure Game

Great Park Pursuit: The MA State Park Family Adventure

The Great Park Pursuit

Outdoor adventure game challenges all ages to disconnect from cyberspace and reconnect with open space.

The Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) is launching its fourth annual Great Park Pursuit, a summer-long series of free family adventures in Massachusetts state parks. This year, families will design their own Park Pursuit adventures with activities they choose.

“We envision the Great Park Pursuit as a first step in building the next generation of environmental stewards,” said DCR Commissioner Richard K. Sullivan Jr. “The Great Park Pursuit gives participants a sampling of what our more than 450,000 acres of state parks offer on a daily basis. Let’s not let television and the Internet replace wonderful, traditional activities like hiking, fishing, and biking.”

Each year, several hundred families have participated in the Great Park Pursuit, hiking to beautiful views, learning to fish, pitching a tent, roasting s’mores, discovering secrets of the past, riding in horse-drawn wagons, and much more.

This year’s program will run through September 18th. DCR parks across the Massachusetts will host Great Park Pursuit activities at various times and locations throughout the summer. Teams are challenged to participate in six programs in several themed categories by September 18th. Categories include “Into the Woods,” “Go Wild,” “Explore the Night” and more. Adults and children will step back in time, discover secrets of the coast, and get to know the night sky.

The Great Park Pursuit is free, but teams must register to be eligible to participate. For information and to register, visit www.greatparkpursuit.org.


About The Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR):

An agency of the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, oversees 450,000 acres of parks and forests, beaches, bike trails, watersheds, dams, and parkways. Led by Commissioner Richard K. Sullivan Jr., the agency’s mission is to protect, promote, and enhance our common wealth of natural, cultural, and recreational resources. To learn more about DCR, our facilities, and our programs, please visit http://www.mass.gov/dcr. Contact us at mass.parks@state.ma.us.

Hula Hoops & Fire Poi in the Berkshires

Pittsfield City Hoopla Comes Spinning Back into Town!

Photo credit: Luther Lotz

Pittsfield City Hoopla returns for its second annual all day hoop-fest this summer on July 24th, 2010. This year it boasts all-day programming in Springside Park (874 North Street), in the public gardens behind Springside House from 12Noon to 5 p.m. and returns in the same location with live drumming and more from 8 to 10 p.m. As always, it is a free event that is open to all ages.

Founded in 2009 by dance artist Stefanie Weber, a Pittsfield native, Pittsfield City Hoopla strives to continue celebrating “the craft, craze and creativity of the hula hoop” this year. The popularity of hooping hasn’t declined one bit since the last Hoopla festival in Pittsfield. Hooping.org, a comprehensive website for all things hoop, sees 40,000 visitors weekly. At music festivals nation wide there are more hoopers hooping around than ever.

As a prelude to the festival there is a hoop-making workshop on Thursday, July 22nd from 6 to 8 P.M. at the Lichtenstein Center for the Arts (28 Renne Ave.). The workshop will teach the basics of hoop construction and offer supplies to decorate and customize your new creation. Preregistration is required for the workshop, please contact spin@pittsfieldcityhoopla.org or call 413-281-6734 to register.

Hula Hoop with LED lights (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

Warm ups and a welcome by Stefanie Weber kick off the official programming for Pittsfield City Hoopla at 12noon on Saturday, July 24th. The greeting is promptly followed by Join the Circle: Hooping 101, a workshop directed by Arian Shelton and Laura Marie of Hooping Harmony in Greenfield, a mother-daughter hooping team. These hula hoop veterans will coach beginners and new comers the basics of hooping for fitness, fun health and healing. If you don’t have your own hoop, don’t fret, there will be hoops to borrow and hoops for sale through out the day. By the end of this session you will be able to perform some hoop tricks and string them together with ease!

After Join the Circle: Hooping 101, Lolli Hoops of Boston Hoop Troop returns with fellow member Little L. Tosses and Jumps will be the focus of the showcase by these hoop dance pros. Lolli Hoops has presented at various venues in the Greater Boston area and beyond including the Somerville Theater, Middle East Downstairs and the Foundation Lounge at the House of Blues.

Hula hoops (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

The festivities continue with Lita Lundeen-Setchfield of One with Fire who will be performing poi, the art of spinning fire. Contemporary poi is a blend of a traditional dance from the Maori culture in New Zealand and Hawaiian men’s rituals from the early 20th century. Fire poi became a popular tourist attraction in Hawaii during the 1960’s and has since gathered much popularity. 

3:30pm marks the beginning of “Open Circle” where everyone is invited to participate in freestyle hooping, jams, sharing, shopping, eating, chair massage and face painting. At 4:30pm all are welcome to exhibit their skills, experiment, try something new, show off to a watchful audience and watch the pros strut their spins for the “Showcases and Performances” portion of the event. In addition to the scheduled activities, the staff of The Vincent Herbert Arboretum will be giving guided tours of the Springside Public Gardens and the surrounding forest eco-system.

EVENING SCHEDULE

Fire poi spinning (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

The evening schedule begins at 8pm after a short break. This enchanted illuminated spin extravaganza features live drumming conducted by Aimee Gelinas of Gaia Roots. The drumming is accompanied by LED hula hooping and fire poi spinning, along with an all out fire hoop jam session until 10pm.

Pittsfield City Hoopla 2010 receives funding support from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, Pittsfield Cultural Council, Pittsfield’s Office of Cultural Development, Greylock Federal Credit Union and The Earthe Shoppe. For more information, to volunteer, showcase your hooping self, or to make a donation to the event contact 413-281-6734 or spin@pittsfieldcityhoopla.org.

Beach Day Trips: 16 Recommendations from Western MA

QUESTION AND ANSWERS

Can anyone recommend a New England BEACH worth taking a day trip to?



  1. Teresa Barents Van Bramer responds: Misquamicut Beach in Rhode Island.
  2. Maria Sansalone responds: Rhode Island beaches in general.
  3. Rae Griffiths responds: Wingaersheek Beach in Gloucester, MA
  4. Marianne Bullock responds: Plum Island, MA
  5. Lynne Priest Fitzpatrick responds: Ditto on Plum Island or Gloucester area.
  6. Lauren Koblara Kostantin responds: Misquamicut Beach and Wingaersheek Beach are both really good ones. Also love Old Orchard Beach, Maine, if you’re looking for old school boardwalk type beaches.
  7. Julianne Thibodeau Krutka responds: Hampton Beach in NH is my favorite! Has something for everyone no matter what age range! Lots of stuff to do!
  8. Karen Bayne responds: Rockport, MA: Adorable town beach with rocks made for climbing in picturesque town, dotted with galleries, fudge shops, ice cream shops & hole in the wall lobster roll spots. Park on the street – public bathrooms right on the street where beach is! – Rocky Neck, CT: Lovely state park beach with small waves from the Long Island Sound. Water stays shallow for a long way from shore, so great for younger beach swimmers. Bathrooms, changing stalls, showers – pay to park.
  9. Alison Platek Webster responds: Agree with Rocky Neck! Went there as a kid and just took my two year old and two month old for the first time last week. Another plus, you actually walk under the Amtrak line onto the beach, so there are lots of train sightings!
  10. Jannelle Codianni responds: Demarest Lloyd State Park Beach (Dartmouth, MA). I live a lot closer to this beach than many of you who would be traveling out from western MA, but I would still go to this beach if I had to travel 3 hours! It’s a state park so it’s inexpensive, and if you have the parks pass, it’s free. It is a small beach, rocky like your typical New England beach, but it’s in an inlet so there are very few waves. This makes it nice and easy for kids. When the tide goes out there are tide pools galore filled with really interesting marine life to explore and temporarily collect. I’ve never seen it very crowded, and there are usually a lot of families with younger kids there. This is my favorite beach.
  11. Riqi Kosovske responds: We just went to Hampton Beach, NH for the day. Very honky-tonk but there was something so comforting and down to earth about being on a crowded beach with kids and tattoos of every variety. Good chai right across from the beach and clear, clear water.
  12. Carmela Smith responds: Nauset Light (Eastham, MA) or Marconi Point on Cape Cod are great beaches to go to. Very peaceful to be at even when its busy it doesn’t seem too bad to be at.
  13. Betsy-Dawn Williams responds: There is also Rock Harbor in Orleans, MA on the Cape… and in Connecticut, there is Hammonasset Beach State Park (Madison, CT)… the beach in Ogunquit, Maine is quite nice too. That Hampton Beach in NH is COLD!
  14. Kelly Czupkiewicz Pacunas responds: Old Orchard Beach in Maine! Fun for all ages
  15. Karen O’Connell Leet responds: As a kid we would go to these: Horseneck Beach, Westport, MA (big dunes); Newport Beaches in Newport, RI (surfer vibe); Onset Beach, Wareham, MA (pretty inlet). These are all about 3 hours away from the Hilltowns.
  16. Maribeth Blankenburg Ritchie responds: Misquamicut Beach. Lots to do… amusement park, restaurants, beach.

The Wonders of Summer, Family & Community

Making Memories

Real-home-town parades for the 4th of July. (Photo credit: Dana Pilson)

There’s nothing better than a good old red white and blue, wrapped yourself up in an American flag, July fourth holiday. And nothing says July fourth better than a parade and fireworks. This year proved to be one of the best. Our little village puts on a real-home-town parade, replete with sirening fire engines, antique cars sporting American flags, proud selectmen, a tiny marching band, baseball players, prancing miniature ponies, and bringing up the rear, on pony clean-up duty, a former Massachusetts governor driving a golf cart. The whole town turns out — and every year, Daisy and I struggle with the decision: should we march in the parade, or watch? We could march with the library, our CSA, Daisy’s dance troupe, or her school. Or we could sit on the curb and cheer, collecting candy tossed from the floats. Author Elizabeth Winthrop, a part-time Berkshires resident, wrote The Biggest Parade, a children’s book based on the Williamstown parade. The mayor in the story is so concerned with making sure everyone has a role in the parade that there’s no one left to watch!

Spectators clap and cheer the parade on, including Dana and her daughter, Daisy.

This year, we decided to be spectators. Seated on the sidewalk amongst friends and family, we clapped and cheered and held our ears to block out the wailing fire engine sirens. We sprang up to gather candy and waved to the selectmen and all our friends marching with various groups. As usual, we procured a free balloon from the toy store, enjoyed a festive free barbecue, and had a slice of birthday cake proffered by the local coffee shop. These are memories in the making. Each year, we add to the store of July fourth memories, cementing in Daisy’s head what it means to create traditions: not just family traditions, but communal.

In the evening, we usually travel to Bennington, VT, to watch fireworks, even though they start around 9:30pm and we don’t manage to get back home until close to 11pm. Some families might argue that fireworks start too late, there are too many teenagers tossing firecrackers at each other, and the kids need to be in bed. But July fourth comes but once a year. What do I want Daisy to remember: an evening spent like most others? Or the excitement of heading out to the local park, finding a spot on the hill for our blanket and chairs, munching on cold grapes as toddlers race around with sparklers, watching the golden sunset as the stars, moon and planets emerge, and then, finally, after so much waiting, witnessing the magic as the sky lights up with exploding colors?

We have so few opportunities to create lasting visceral memories. Fireworks can hardly be caught on film, you cannot capture the boom that rattles your insides, the crackle and sputter, or the screaming of the twirly whirlies. Words can’t adequately describe the feel of the cool evening grass in your toes, the taste of quickly melting ice cream, the smell of the sizzling sparklers, uttering in unison “ooh, aah, peachy keen,” and then the absolute darkness when the fireworks end and we feel our way back down the hill towards the parking lot. These all must be felt, and experienced using all our senses.

July fourth may be our country’s birthday, but it is also a celebration of the wonders of summer, family, and community. Our family might be small, a tiny unit of three, but it doesn’t mean we can’t make big, rich memories to last a lifetime.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

Dana “Dee” Pilson

Dee lives with her professor husband and young daughter in rural Pownal, Vermont, just over the state line from Williamstown, Massachusetts. She is an art historian and has worked in museums in New York City, Boston, and Williamstown. She has been an avid writer since the tender age of eight, filling journals with personal essays and short stories, as well as mounds of poetry, both serious and whimsical. New Yorker by birth, New Hampshire-ite by schooling, and now Vermonter by choice, Dee writes about art and architecture, the environment, books, food, exercise, travel, and green living. Her new blog, “The Power of One,” focuses on issues related to parenting an only child in today’s child-centric world. dpilson@aol.com

Q&A: Outdoor Swimming Pools in Western MA

QUESTION AND ANSWERS

Find an outdoor swimming pool in Western MA. (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

Can anyone recommend an outdoor swimming pool to take the kids to in Western Massachusetts?

  • Julie Gouldman Russell responds: If you happen to know someone who is a member – South Hadley has a great swimming club with an outdoor pool (or you could join yourself too).
  • Jude McGowan responds: Northampton Country Club (fee/membership); Autumn Inn Elm St. in Northampton (fee/membership)?
  • Jennifer Pierce responds: Mill River Recreation area in Amherst.
  • Julianne Thibodeau Krutka responds: I love the public pool over in Agawam! It’s sponsored by the state. It’s in a great location tucked away off of North St. The name of it is the Gerald J. Mason Memorial Swimming Pool. It’s on Armory Street. (413)786-6254.
  • Vicky George responds: Green River in Greenfield, MA. Just off I-91. It’s a part of the river that’s been made into a public swimming area, very nice. – DCR has a list of all public swimming pools in the state. Well, all the ones the Department of Conservation and Recreation has anything to do with.
  • Theresa J Kelly Russell responds: Buckland Recreation Area. Two pools (one for the little ones!).
  • Sienna Wildfield responds: A few more: Worthington Swim & Tennis Club in Worthington; Clarion Hotel in Northampton; John H. Thomas Memorial Swimming Pool in Springfield (Blunt Park Rd. 413-736-7699); Sara Jane Sherman Memorial Swimming Pool in Chicopee on Meadow Street.
  • Sandra Dias responds: Nonotuck Park in Easthampton. Chicopee also has a pool at Szot Park. There is a fee for both.

A Day at the Shelburne Falls Trolley Museum

School’s Out

Engineer Polly Bartlett shows the boys how to operate the pump car at the Shelburne Falls Trolley Museum. (Photo credit: Karen Bayne)

School’s out! The last time it was this hot, my family and I had just moved to Northampton from a sleepy Connecticut suburb, there were two weeks until school started, and we knew nothing and no one. We spent every hot afternoon at Look Park, running through the much beloved sprinklers. Now that it is summer again, we are more or less unpacked and ready adventures. My boys are 11, 6 and 4. The age span can be a challenge for us. My summer goal is to find places we can frequent that satisfy us all, build bridges between the boys’ different ages and temperaments and wear them out so they will sleep heartily at night.

I decided to surprise Matt on Father’s Day with a short day trip to Shelburne Falls. The Shelburne Falls Trolley Museum is home to trolley car #10. This trolley belonged to the Shelburne Falls & Colrain Railway company which closed up shop in 1928. It was saved by a farmer, used as a chicken coop and then refurbished in 1999.  It is a charming little trolley, with a shiny dark wood interior, the original frosted glass windows at the top and fresh exterior boards painted a perfect farm yellow. Our tickets were punched, the lights came on, the kids sat at attention for the short ride.

While the conductor turned the line around for our return trip, we had a bit of a history lesson from the guide.  We learned that car #10 was a combination car. It carried both cargo and passengers. One side hauled cotton, apples and vinegar from the farms to town and the other side carried passengers, usually workers or students who used the trolley to commute to high school in Colrain.  High school feels like a world away to me now, but I pictured my boys as teenagers, commuting by trolley in 1920, hopping on, eyeing the barrel full of apples in the cargo section, borrowing the fare from a friend, swimming in the Deerfield River to cool down once they reached home again.

Bridge of Flowers, built in 1908 by the Shelburne Falls & Colrain Railway company. (Photo credit: Isaac Bayne)

When #10 headed back, we found ourselves in a race with the pump car on the nearby track. Engineer Polly, along with a teenager and her grandpa were flying down the track pumping the handles, hair whipping everywhere.  My six year old assures me that we won, as trolleys cannot be beat. The boys were intent on riding the pump car, because they are the fastest ever. I thought maybe Theo was too young so Matt took Isaac and Henry first. Polly, our engineer, assumed control of our family for a short time, as she explained the purposes and rules of the pump car. Henry was to stand on the side and hold on to the bar in the center.  Isaac and Matt face forward and pumped side by side at the back. Polly pumped at the front and controlled the foot break.

On the way back, Henry was allowed to pump, as she determined he was both tall enough and old enough to follow the instructions. When I took Theo on he held on tight with two hands and kept his feet on the platform. He will have to grow a few more inches until he can pump without it bumping his chin, but he has just turned 4. Polly instructed him not to wave at daddy, as she wanted both hands on the bar. When we coasted in, Theo did not wave but gave a big smile, with a “hello there!” He was quite pleased with himself. All the kids got a “I drove the pump car” sticker.  Before we left, the boys crawled all over the yet to be restored little caboose. They climbed up to the upper seats, admired the wood burning stove & the “closet potty” in the corner. We poked around the museum for a bit, enjoying this store house of trolley treasure, with telegraph machines and electric trains running.

Glacial Potholes in Shelburne Falls, MA. (Photo credit: Isaac Bayne)

Since we were in Shelburne Falls, we crossed the famous Bridge of Flowers, which was built in 1908 by the trolley company itself. Just a few years after the trolleys stopped running, the town itself saved this bridge transforming it into a glorious garden. I expected to have a difficult time in engaging the boys in the viewing of a garden, but walking on a foot bridge over a river was entertaining for Theo. Henry was happy to direct my attention to the smell and colors of different roses and Isaac was pleased when I set the camera to macro and showed him how to photographs the flowers close up.  On the far side of the bridge, we visited the Glacial Potholes. My kids are easily impressed by geological formations (also known as rocks), and these were very impressive rocks which can be very safely view from the observation deck. The boys itched to get down and scramble in the river bed, but the glacial potholes are actual holes in the river bed left by stones swirling in the river when it swelled with the melting of the glaciers. We left with promises to find another spot for river scrambling and swimming. There are many hot days of summer ahead.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Karen Bayne

Karen grew up in Manhattan and lived in Connecticut before moving to Northampton with her husband Matt to raise their boys. Her sons Isaac, Henry and Theo are 11, 6 and 4,  leaving Karen on a search for all the “just right adventures” that will wow them and wear them out.  She works as a birth doula, childbirth and parent educator in the greater Northampton area. She writes about mothering at Needs New Batteries and about birth in our culture at Gentle Balance Birth.

Highland Unusual Games Triathlon at the Hilltown Spring Festival

Hosts Needed for the Highland Unusual Games Triathlon
at the Hilltown Spring Festival on May 15th, 2010

For the past two years, competitors from across the Hilltowns – ranging in age thus far from two to seventy-two – have flocked to the Hilltown Spring Festival for the annual “Highland Unusual Games Triathlon.” The Triathlon is a grueling test of accuracy, balance and speed (strength and endurance are not required) featuring a 40-yard egg race, horseshoes and a scaled down version of frisbee golf. Teams of two, three and four persons have competed successfully for various and sundry special prizes.

According to Triathlon organizer, Andrew Baker, who serves as Executive Director of the Hilltown CDC (creator of the Hilltown Spring Festival) during the few moments when he is not entirely dedicated to planning the next annual Triathlon, “We are always on the lookout people to help host the Triathlon and to suggest new games, provided they are willing to host them on Festival day for a few hours and teach them to eager young competitors. I wouldn’t mind seeing the Triathlon grow into a Quad or Quintathlon this year!”

Key criteria for successful festival games are their ability to be learned quickly and played by contestants of all ages. They should require minimal equipment (supplied by the host) and be able to be played in a fairly small area. And they need hosts!

Baker concludes, “I’ve just thought of a new one! I’m calling it ‘Croak-aye.’ It’s a cousin of shuffleboard played on grass with croquet balls hit into a hole in the ground. Come try it out.”

If you would like to suggest/host a new game for the Hilltown Spring Festival, volunteer to help host the Triathlon, and/or donate an unusual winner’s prize, contact Andrew at the Hilltown CDC: andrewb@hilltowncdc.org or 413-296-4536 ext. 118. See you at the Triathlon!

Photo credit: (ccl) Jason Stare

Birding Beyond Your Backyard in the Berkshires

Birding Beyond Your Backyard

Anyone who wants to learn how to identify local birds by sight and sound will be interested in this new free program, “Birding Beyond Your Backyard,” organized by the Hoffmann Bird Club.

After watching the antics of a pair of cardinals, a posse of bluejays or a twittering troop of finches, many people become backyard birders. First, there is the rush to the supermarket to buy a simple feeder and a five-pound bag of seed. Just sit back and watch the birds come in for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Then, it’s off to Tractor Supply for more and different types of feeders, a forty-pound bag of seed and a bit of suet.

Within days, the resident birds fly out of the woods into the newest avian restaurant. With a Peterson’s or a Sibley’s in hand, identification is easy: Chickadees and titmice, nuthatches and finches, cardinals and blue jays, hairy and downy woodpeckers. As spring rolls around, a few sparrows stop in, maybe a turkey or two, and now blackbirds and grackles.

Yet the wild areas of the Berkshires are graced with many other species, species perhaps too shy to come to the exposed feeder or maybe a species that’s just passing through during the migration. Here is the opportunity to step out beyond your backyard and learn to observe and identify more and different species.

The “Birding Beyond Your Backyard (BBYB) two-hour walks are free and open to all. There will be a walk at 7:30AM each Saturday in April through four different birding territories in the Berkshires led by an expert birder. In order to be better organized, pre-registration is encouraged. Just call Dave at 413-655-8594 or email outreach@hoffmannbirdclub.org.

Here are the Saturday BBYB walks for April 2010:

  • April 3rd, Pittsfield Lakes 7:30AM
  • April 10th, Canoe Meadows 7:30AM
  • April 17th, Gulf Road, Dalton 7:30AM
  • April 24th, Springfield Park 7:30AM

So if you would like to reserve a place, register now for one or more of these exciting “Birding Beyond Your Backyard” walks!

Join the Great Backyard Bird Count During February Break

Join the Great Backyard Bird Count
February 12-15, 2010

Heading south for some sand and surf during the February school break? Bring along a tally sheet and count the sea gulls, sand pipers and pelicans at a nearby beach or wildlife refuge. Click on the image above for a printable tally sheet. Use your postal code, town or name of National Park to generate a custom tally sheet. (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

Bird watchers coast to coast are invited to take part in the 13th annual Great Backyard Bird Count, Friday, February 12, through Monday, February 15, 2010.  Participants in the free event will join tens of thousands of volunteers counting birds in their own backyards, local parks or wildlife refuges.

Each checklist submitted by these “citizen scientists” helps researchers at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology,the National Audubon Society , and Bird Studies Canada learn more about how the birds are doing—and how to protect them. Last year, participants turned in more than 93,600 checklists online, creating the continent’s largest instantaneous snapshot of bird populations ever recorded.

Anyone can take part in the Great Backyard Bird Count, from novice bird watchers to experts. Participants count birds for as little as 15 minutes (or as long as they wish) on one or more days of the event and report their sightings online at www.birdcount.org. One 2009 participant said, “Thank you for the opportunity to participate in citizen science. I have had my eyes opened to a whole new interest and I love it!”

On the www.birdcount.org website, participants can explore real-time maps and charts that show what others are reporting during the count. The site has tips to help identify birds and special materials for educators. Participants may also enter the GBBC photo contest by uploading images taken during the count. Many images will be featured in the GBBC website’s photo gallery. All participants are entered in a drawing for prizes that include bird feeders, binoculars, books, CDs, and many other great birding products.

Participants submit thousands of digital images for the GBBC photo contest each year. Participants are also invited to upload their bird videos to YouTube tagged “GBBC.” – Businesses, schools, nature clubs, Scout troops, and other community organizations interested in the GBBC can contact the Cornell Lab of Ornithology at (800) 843-2473 (outside the U.S., call (607) 254-2473), or Audubon at citizenscience@audubon.org or (215) 355-9588, Ext 16.

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The Lunar Year: Names of the Full Moon

Can a Full Moon Have More Than One Name?

When the Moon is Full by Penny PollackIn many cultures a folklore name is associated with each full moon of the year. January’s full moon was called the Wolf Moon by some Native Americans, as noted in Penny Pollock’s book, When the Moon is Full: A Lunar Year.

The Farmer’s Almanac describes January’s moon lore, “Amid the cold and deep snows of midwinter, the wolf packs howled hungrily outside Indian villages. Thus, the name for January’s full Moon. Sometimes it was also referred to as the Old Moon, or the Moon After Yule. Some called it the Full Snow Moon, but most tribes applied that name to the next Moon.”

Both Pollock and the Farmer’s Almanac acknowledge February’s full moon as the Snow Moon since this was the month the heaviest snows fell. According to the Farmer’s Almanac, “Some [Native American] tribes also referred to [the Feb.] Moon as the Full Hunger Moon, since harsh weather conditions in their areas made hunting very difficult.”

Pollock writes a simple children’s books that offers an elementary look at moon lore. It’s beautifully illustrated with woodcuts that have been hand colored by Mary Azarian, a Caldecott Award winning illustrator. Using lyrical poetry, the author takes the reader through a journey of twelve months by sharing Native American folklore that is associated with each month’s moon.

Pollack’s account of the full moons includes the January full moon as the Wolf Moon, a time when Native Americans observed wolves becoming restless. February is the Snow Moon due to heavy snows that used to happen in our area in years past. The Sap Moon is in March when the Maples come alive, and April is the Frog Moon as our little amphibian friends pop out on the spring scene. The Flower Moon is in May and the Strawberry Moon is in June. July hosts the Buck Moon when deer sprout their antlers, and August is the Green Corn Moon. The Harvest Moon happens in September, and due to the moon’s early rise October is the Hunter’s Moon because of the extra light added to the setting sun. The Beaver Moon is November’s moon and December is known for the Long Night Moon corresponding with the Winter Solstice.

Pollock has a couple of pages in the back of her book with questions and answers about the moon. One question is “Can a full moon have more than one name?” And her answer is yes! Many.

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Winter Trails Day in the Hilltowns

Winter Trails Day at Notchview in Windsor, MA
Free Outdoor Snow Sports Fun For All

The Trustees of Reservations invite everyone to try out a snow sport on Winter Trails Day. Free events will take place at Notchview on Route 9, Windsor, MA on Saturday, January 9th, from 10:00 AM to 3:00 PM.

  • SNOWSHOE: Snowshoes will be available for free to try out for up to two hours.
  • CROSS-COUNTRY SKI: Free cross-country ski lessons will be offered for beginner and intermediate skiers at 10:30 AM and again at 1:30 PM.
  • SKI CLINIC: At 11:00 AM there will be a waxing clinic covering both waxable and no-wax skis. Find out why no-wax skis should be waxed.
  • HIKE: At 1:30 PM The Trustees volunteers will lead a one-hour “Winter Woods” snowshoe hike.
  • ORIENTEERING: Families can venture out for a Nordic orienteering game where they ski along Notchview’s scenic trails, following a map to reach marked locations. Each location has a unique punch code to record on a game card. Prizes will be awarded based on the number of locations recorded.

“Winter Trails Day is a great opportunity for someone thinking about trying cross-country skiing or snowshoeing to jump in,” according to Jim Caffrey, the superintendent of Notchview Reservation. “Outdoor exercise is a great way to beat the winter blues and pick up your spirits. Nordic skiing is a low-impact, healthy sport for men and women of all ages. The lessons will cover everything from the basics: how to dress; how to get your skis on and off and how to get up after falling; to more advanced topics like proper form and balance. Plenty of skiers will be on hand to provide advice and support.”

Winter Trails Day is a national initiative to showcase the health benefits of snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. These low-impact aerobic activities incorporate strength and endurance training, and can help people stay active and healthy throughout the winter months when other sports are impossible to pursue.

To enjoy winter sports, wear sturdy, waterproof winter boots, and dress in layers with a windproof shell or parka as the top layer. A winter hat is also recommended. Snowshoe bindings are designed to strap on over regular boots. Rental ski packages including skis, boots and poles are available in advance from Berkshire Outfitters in Adams, MA, 413 743-5900, or from your local ski shop.

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Ice Skating in Western Massachusetts

24 Ice Skating Rinks in Western Mass

Note that the availability of Outdoor Rinks will not only vary from year to year, but they also will vary daily according to temperature and snow fall.

Outdoor ice skating at Paradise Pond on the campus of Smith College in Northamtpon, MA. (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

  • [AMHERST] Mullins Memorial Center 413-545-3990
    Skate Rentals Available, Snack Bar
  • [AMHERST] Orr Rink at Amherst College 413-542-7950
  • [BLANFORD] Watson Park on Main Street. Outdoor rink. (No Skate Rentals Available)
  • [CONWAY] Ball park as an Outdoor rink. Lighting at night. (No Skate Rentals Available)
  • [EASTHAMPTON] Lossone Rink at Williston Northampton School (No Skate Rentals Available) Public skate times are every Sunday in the winter from 3-5pm and are organized by the Easthampton PRD. 413-529-1440
  • [FLORENCE] Florence Civic Center Outdoors Ice Skating (No Skate Rentals Available)
  • [GOSHEN] DAR State Park Outdoors Ice Skating (No Skate Rentals Available; Warming Hut)
  • [GREENFIELD] Collins/Moylan Skating Rink 413-772-6891
    Skate Rentals Available, Snack Bar
  • [GREENFIELD] Beacon Field Outdoor Ice Skating Rink. (No Skate Rentals) Beacon Street & Gerrett Street.
  • [HOLYOKE] Fitzpatrick Arena 413-532-2929
  • [HOLYOKE] Community Field. Outdoors Ice skating. Admission $3/person. Limited skate rentals $2/person. Staffed by Parks & Rec. Ice is resurfaced. Restrooms, warming house, & lockers. 2013 schedule: Fridays, 6pm – 9pm;  Saturdays, 12pm – 4pm & 6pm – 9pm;  Sundays 12pm – 4pm.  Located off Cherry Street at 1 Community Field Road. Weather dependent. 413-322-5620
  • [HUNTINGTON] Outdoor Ice Skating Rink on the Town Common (No Skate Rentals)
  • [LENOX] Outdoor Ice Rink at Cranwell Resort, Spa and Golf Club.  Day passes and skate rental available. 413-637-1364
  • [MONTEREY] Monterey Outdoor Ice Pavilion. (No Skate Rentals Available) 413-528-1443 x248
  • [NORTH ADAMS] Vietnam Veterans Memorial Rink 413-664-8185
  • [NORTHAMPTON] Smith College Outdoor Ice Skating (No Skate Rentals Available)  413-585-2400 (CLOSED FOR 2013)
  • [PITTSFIELD] Pittsfield Boys & Girls Club Skating Arena 413-448-8258
  • [SPRINGFIELD] Smead Ice Arena 413-781-2599
  • [SPRINGFIELD] Cyr Arena 413-787-6438
  • [SHEFFIELD] Berkshire School – Rovenski Rink
  • [STURBRIDGE] Old Sturbridge Village Ice Skating Outdoors in the Center Village (No Skate Rentals Available)
  • [WILLIAMSTOWN] Lansing Chapman Rink at Williams College. 76 Latham St. 413-597-3131
  • [WESTFIELD] Amelia Park Arena 413-568-2503 Skate Rentals, Two Rink Facility
  • [WEST SPRINGFIELD] Olympia Ice Center 413-736-8100

Add your favorite spot to the list. Recommend an indoor or outdoor rink in our comment box below.


8 Safety Tips

Keep kids safe when skating outdoors. Look for signs that share the current skating status of ponds and lakes. (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

Ice skating is a fun winter activity, and also a great exercise! The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) offers 8 tips to help you and your family enjoy safe skating:

  1. Never go onto the ice alone.
  2. Always keep your pets on a leash. If a pet falls through the ice, do not attempt a rescue – go for help.
  3. Beware of ice covered with snow. Snow can insulate ice and keep it strong, but it also can insulate the ice and keep it from freezing. Snow also can hide cracks as well as weak and open ice.
  4. Ice formed over flowing water (including springs under the surface) is generally weaker than ice over still water.
  5. Ice seldom freezes or thaws at a uniform rate. It can be a foot thick in one spot or an inch thick in another.
  6. If a companion falls through the ice and you are unable to reach that person from shore, throw something to them (a rope, tree branch, even jumper cables from the car, etc.). If this doesn’t work, go or phone for help before you also become a victim. Get medical assistance for the victim immediately.
  7. If you fall in, try not to panic. Turn toward the direction you came from. Place your hands and arms on the unbroken surface, working forward by kicking your feet. Once the ice is solid enough to hold you, and you can pull yourself out, remain lying on the ice (do not stand; lying down spreads your weight across a wider area, lessening the weight on any one spot) and roll away from the hole. Crawl back the way you came, keeping your weight distributed, until you return to solid ice or ground.
  8. As the season progresses, plan accordingly and use caution, as the condition of older ice greatly varies and is subject to rapidly changing conditions.

For further tips from MEMA, including information on hypothermia and cold water dangers, please visit the featured section “Stay safe, keep warm in extreme weather” at www.mass.gov. MassWildlife also offers additional ice safety tips.

Christmas Bird Count: Citizen Science in Action

Christmas Bird Count: Citizen Science in Action
December 14th – January 5th

Hilltown kids participating in a bird count last year at the Chesterfield Gorge. (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

For three weeks beginning December 14th, 2009, tens of thousands of volunteers throughout the Americas take part in an adventure that has become a family tradition among generations. Families and students, birders and scientists, armed with binoculars, bird guides and checklists go out on an annual mission – often before dawn. For over one hundred years, the desire to both make a difference and to experience the beauty of nature has driven dedicated people to leave the comfort of a warm house during the Holiday season.

Each of the citizen scientists who annually braves snow, wind, or rain, to take part in the Christmas Bird Count makes an enormous contribution to conservation. Audubon and other organizations use data collected in this longest-running wildlife census to assess the health of bird populations – and to help guide conservation action.

From feeder-watchers and field observers to count compilers and regional editors, everyone who takes part in the Christmas Bird Count does it for love of birds and the excitement of friendly competition — and with the knowledge that their efforts are making a difference for science and bird conservation.

To find out how you can get involved, click HERE.

Events happening in the Berkshires for the Christmas Count:

  • Saturday, December 19th
    North Berkshire Christmas Count
    Count species in Williamstown, New Ashford, North Adams, and Adams with members of N. Berkshire Audubon. Contact Gary Soucie (458-0309, wf5f@roadrunner.com) or Pam Weatherbee (458-3538) for more information. Blizzard date: 12/20
  • Sunday, December 20th
    Central Berkshire Christmas Count
    Join a team and keep the tradition going. Sign up at Members Night (12/1), or contact count leader Tom Collins (499-2799, tcbirder@nycap.rr.com) for departure place and time. Blizzard date: 12/27.
  • Friday, January 1st
    South Berkshire Christmas Count
    Join a team and welcome the new year with some winter birding. Contact René Laubach (637-0320, rlaubach@massaudubon.org) to sign up or for more information about time and place.

February Bird Count

Another bird count your family can participate in this winter is the Great Backyard Bird Count, a joint project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society. This year the GBBC happens February 12th-15th, 2010.  Click HERE to read more about the GBBC.

6th Annual Community Walk/Run in the Hilltowns

Gorge aprés Gorge
Community Walk/Run in West Chesterfield, MA
Sunday, November 29, 2009, 10AM

The Sunday morning following your Thanksgiving dinner gorge, rise and shine to join friends and neighbors for the 6th annual Gorge aprés Gorge run/walk at the Chesterfield Gorge in West Chesterfield, MA. Community members are invited to embrace winter by being outside with friends and neighbors in a three mile out and back run/walk/bike/snowshoe/ski along the beautiful Westfield River. It’s a free event and all are welcomed! It’s a family affair.

Complimentary warm drinks will be served (coffee, tea, hot chocolate, cider). Please help reduce waste and cost by bringing your own mug. Food to share is always welcome. Event will happen regardless the weather. For more information or to volunteer, email Leslie Charles leslie@lacdesign.com. Organizers ask that families kindly leave their lovely dogs at home this day.

Letterboxing: Adventure, Art and the Great Outdoors

Letterboxing: A Crafty Outdoor Adventure
By Jessica Branciforte

Letterboxing in Goshen, MA

Letterboxing at the DAR in Goshen, MA. (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

Letterboxing involves a mixture of artistry, adventure, navigation, and secrecy. All in all, it’s a great big treasure hunt with art lying in wait where the “X” marks the spot. It’s very similar to geocaching, except with clues instead of coordinates, and when found, a letterbox contains a tiny piece of one of a kind art – a hand carved stamp. Mix stamp making and treasure hunting in the great outdoors and you’ve got yourself a fun and creative pastime.

Legend suggests that letterboxing began in 1854 when calling cards were placed in jars found outdoors. Upon finding a jar, others were encouraged to leave their card as well. Modern letterboxing follows the same guidelines using hand carved stamps and the World Wide Web.

What you’ll need before you start:

  • A thirst for adventure and the outdoors
  • Your own trail stamp, which should be a hand carved image that you think best represents you
  • Letterboxing clues
  • A small inkpad and a logbook
  • A compass (optional but fun)

The Art of the Letterbox Hunt

Step One: To begin, you’ll need to carve your own signature stamp. You can always use a pre-made stamp that you’re especially fond of, but many find it fulfilling to carve their own mark. Using Speedball tools and an eraser or some carving rubber, create the image you would like to represent your trail ID. You can also use this great tutorial on stamp carving.

Step Two: Use the Internet to find some clues! Folks who create letterboxes publish the steps it takes to find them online. It’s hard to go on a treasure hunt without the map. You’d be surprised where letterboxes are located, since even the smallest of towns can have hidden boxes. You may have even discovered one while hiking in the past and didn’t quite know what it was. To start finding letterboxes close to you, check out www.letterboxing.org.

Step Three: Some letterbox hunts will take all afternoon while others only fifteen minutes. Choose a set of clues that suits your schedule for the day, and your hunting style. Some clues are posted in poem form while others cut right to the chase and tell you how many steps to take and in what direction. It all depends on what you’re in the mood for. You can find letterboxes in state parks, campgrounds and even graveyards. Either way it’s rewarding when you find your way to the end of the hunt. Picture yourself nearing the end of your journey. You might read something like, “Take ten paces to your right” “Look for the tree with the double trunk” or “Dig into the ‘V’ of the tree until you find the box.” Woo hoo! You’ve found a letterbox! Inside you should find a logbook, a carved stamp, and some ink.

Leave Your Mark

Here’s your chance to make your creative mark in the world. Open up the logbook to a clean page and use your own stamp to leave your mark. Write a few notes about your trip and what you saw while hiking and sign your name. If you’d like to you can even write the date and where you’re from. It’s especially interesting for others to discover leaf though the log book and read other entries. Some books take you years into the past!

You’ll also want to make a record of finding this letterbox for yourself. Take the stamp provided inside the letterbox and stamp it into your own logbook. Jot down a few notes about your travels and remember to record the date and location of the box. These extra anecdotes are a great way to remember a trip away from home, as letterboxes are generally hidden in state parks or forests that represent the natural identity of an area.

More Letterboxing Adventures

Letterboxing in Goshen, MA

Letterboxing at the DAR in Goshen, MA. (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

There’s a HUGE letterboxing world out there! Interested in finding “hitchhikers” “microboxes” and “mystery boxes?” Learn more about lingo and letterboxing etiquette at www.atlasquest.com.

Letterboxing combines your creative abilities along with the fun of active exercise and adventure in the great outdoors. Once you get started with this addictive activity, you’ll soon find yourself with a logbook full of recordings of great hunts and hikes—as well as full of great memories. You’ll want to look back over your findings and compare what you’ve recorded with others as well.

Recommended Reading:

 


Originally published in Handmade News. Reprinted with Permission.

Great Park Pursuit: The MA State Park Family Adventure

Great Park Pursuit: The MA State Park Family Adventure

The Great Park PursuitThe Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) is launching its third annual Great Park Pursuit, a summer-long series of free family adventures in Massachusetts state parks. This year, families will design their own Park Pursuit adventures with activities they choose.

“We envision the Great Park Pursuit as a first step in building the next generation of environmental stewards,” said DCR  Commissioner Richard K. Sullivan Jr. “The Great Park Pursuit gives participants a sampling of what our more than 450,000 acres of state parks offer on a daily basis. Let’s not let television and the Internet replace wonderful, traditional activities like hiking, fishing, and biking.”

During each of the first two years of the Great Park Pursuit, several hundred families participated across the Commonwealth. They hiked to beautiful views, learned to fish, pitched a tent, roasted s’mores, discovered secrets of the past, rode in horse-drawn wagons, and much more.

This year’s program will run July 10 through Sept. 12. DCR parks across the Commonwealth will host Great Park Pursuit activities at various times and locations throughout the summer. Teams are challenged to participate in six programs in several themed categories by Sept. 12th. Categories include “Into the Woods,” “Go Wild,” “Explore the Night” and more. They will step back in time, discover secrets of the coast, and get to know the night sky. Teams will collect special program stickers at each participating DCR park and chronicle their adventures on the team card that they download from the DCR website.  They can also track their adventures with stories and photos on their personal Great Park Pursuit homepage.

Great Park Pursuit teams can be families, but they can be other groups of adults and children, too. Each team must include at least one person 18 years or older and at least one person under 18.

The rise in childhood obesity, diabetes, and heart disease is a growing national crisis. The health and well-being of children is critical. Outdoor experiences in early childhood can help children get on the path to a healthy and active lifestyle, and create the next generation of stewards of our parks and natural resources.

The Great Park Pursuit is free, but teams must register to be eligible to win the prizes. For more information, visit www.greatparkpursuit.org.


About The Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR):

An agency of the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, oversees 450,000 acres of parks and forests, beaches, bike trails, watersheds, dams, and parkways. Led by Commissioner Richard K. Sullivan Jr., the agency’s mission is to protect, promote, and enhance our common wealth of natural, cultural, and recreational resources. To learn more about DCR, our facilities, and our programs, please visit http://www.mass.gov/dcr. Contact us at mass.parks@state.ma.us.

Hands-on Sustainability Curriculum

If You Give a Kid a Shovel
by Joe Gillespie

Have you ever watched kids dig potatoes for the first time? It is like a treasure hunt. Or experienced the joy of pulling a beautiful, long orange carrot, washing it, and eating it right then and there? There is no substitute for these experiences.

I have been gardening with students for a long time. More recently, I have written a couple of successful grants to purchase wind turbines and solar panels, along with community educational materials on alternative energy. For years, I did all of this with sixth graders. When I got bumped to eighth grade, I began teaching a course called Sustainable Living. I believe that I am teaching important life skills, and preparing students for a new future that may be much different than our current way of living.

Sustainable Living is a semester-long, elective class designed to teach students about sustainability through the use of our extensive garden, our rooftop solar panels, and small wind turbines. We immerse students into the world of gardening and eating the good food that we grow. With our thirty raised beds, a greenhouse, extensive worm bins, and composting area as an outdoor classroom, we learn about everything from building good soil to seed germination to preserving our crops. We monitor our own solar and wind energy production, and cook and prepare food twice a week.

Every day is a little different and always very hands-on. I have found something very interesting about teaching gardening over the years. There is usually no immediate gratification, which is what students are used to and what they desire. Other than seeing a radish seed pop out of the soil fairly quickly, most plants take two to three months to grow to a harvestable size. And there is all of the weeding and watering to do. Yet the reward is often so great, that if you can just get them that far, the concepts they learn are deeply ingrained in their being.

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Chesterfield’s 62nd Annual Independence Day Parade

4th of July Parade in Chesterfield, MA

Click on flyer for larger image

Nicolas Frischer of Chesterfield, MA writes:

“Let Freedom Ring” will be the theme of this year’s July 4th parade and promises all the fun and family attractions that have made this event a Hill town tradition since 1947.

The parade which starts at 10:30am will feature marching bands, floats, animals, clowns, fire and emergency equipment and as always, one of the best displays of antique and classic automobiles.

Activities in town center will begin at 7am and run until 3pm include:

  • Pancake Breakfast
  • Food & Vendor Booths
  • Quilt Display
  • Historic Exhibits
  • Heritage Pops Orchestra
  • Chicken Barbecue
  • Kids Fun
  • Face Painting
  • Petting Zoo
  • Fireman’s Competitions
  • Family Softball

The parking field is on-site at Bryant Street and there will be ten comfort stations conveniently located around town.

Invitations remain open for any group, organization, or attraction that would like to enter a float, march or enjoy participating.

Any small donations from individuals or sponsorship contribution and recognition from area businesses would be genuinely appreciated to help offset significant reductions in State and Cultural Arts funds received in the past.

Please send donations to:

Chesterfield 4th of July Association
P.O. Box 502
Chesterfield, MA 01012

Or contact Mary Ann Coleman at 413-296-4787.

62nd Annual Independence Day Parade in Chesterfield Seeks Participants (2009)

Nicolas Frischer of Chesterfield, MA writes:

4th of July Parade in Chesterfield, MA (Photo credit: (ccl) salomedance06)

“Let Freedom Ring” will be the theme of this year’s (2009) July 4th parade in Chesterfield, MA, and promises all the fun and family attractions that have made this event a Hill town tradition since 1947.

To help make this parade better than ever, we would like to extend an invitation to groups and organizations that would like to enter a float and to marching bands and other attractions that would enjoy participating.

We are also seeking nominations for Chesterfield’s annual presentation of “Volunteer of the Year” and “Lifetime Achievement” awards.

While plans are developing to make this year’s event better than ever, we do face significant reductions in state and Cultural Arts funds that we have received in the past. We would genuinely appreciate small donations from individuals and offer area businesses sponsorship recognition for their support.

Please send award nominations and donations to:

Chesterfield 4th of July Association
P.O. Box 502
Chesterfield, MA 01012

Or contact Mary Ann Coleman at 413-296-4787.

Maple Syrup: Lessons in Math, Biology & History

Ratios as a Sweet Treat!
By CISA

Maple syrup sign in Worthington, MA. (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

As one of his first orders of business, CISA’s new Executive Director, Phil Korman, has offered to share a maple syrup-based math lesson that he developed for use in his son’s 4th grade classroom. He’s been doing a variation on this lesson with his son’s class for several years, so it can be adjusted to fit most young age groups.

First he introduces the students to the lesson by talking a little bit about the history of maple syrup and how sap is harvested and turned into syrup. This is a great opportunity to teach your students about early American history, and also to explore the biology of maple trees. Visit the Massachusetts Maple Producers Association website for exhaustive resources on all things maple. Once the students are introduced to the wide world of maple trees, sap, and syrup, Phil leads them through the following math lesson, which includes a syrup tasting as a special treat.

Phil’s lesson on Maple Syrup Math and the ratio of 40 to 1 Facts: It takes 40 pints of tree sap from a sugar maple tree to make one pint of maple syrup. It takes 40 gallons of tree sap to make 1 gallon of maple syrup. Using that information, answer the following questions:  Read the rest of this entry »

Bundle Up!

Cold-Weather Checklist
Keep kids warm when the temperature drops.

Snow Play in Cummington, MA

(c) Sienna Wildfield

When the weather outside is frightful but your child thinks going out is delightful, it’s important to follow a few simple guidelines and know what too much cold looks like and what to do about it. Then you can let him go in the snow, worry-free.  Review Toby Leah Bochan guidelines for keeping kids warm.

In addition to bundling up our own kids at home, there are several ways to help children other than our own keep warm:

FREECYCLE – Seeing as kids grow like weeds, even when it’s cold outside, they outgrow their hats, mittens, jackets and boots nearly every winter season. Places like Hilltown Freecycle are free outlets for local hilltown families to offer their winter warm hand-me-downs. They go directly to the families without much of a “middle person.”  Other Freecyle listservs in Western Mass include Amherst, Greenfield, Holyoke, Northampton, Springfield, and many others.  Click here to find the listserv that serves your locality.

HILLTOWN FAMILIESHilltown Families assists in the distribution of child sized hats to families in need in the hilltowns (click here to read more).  Hats are available to individuals on a first come, first serve basis. To reserve a hat for a child in need, email hilltownfamilies@gmail.com.  Hilltown Families also has a local listserv open to local families.  Participants are encouraged to offer their hand-me-downs to other members, organize clothing swaps, and to post resources for families in need.

WARM UP AMERICA! FOUNDATION – A national foundation that has caught the attention of children & adult knitters is Warm Up America! Foundation. Warm Up America! (WUA!) is an organization made up of volunteers who create handmade afghan blankets, clothing and accessories to help those in need. Volunteers donate their time to crochet and knit a 7″ X 9″ rectangle (or more). Sections are either joined by individuals or groups in a community and donated locally or sent to Foundation headquarters for joining and distribution.

The beauty of so many different participants is that a WUA! afghan resembles a patchwork quilt of many colors and textures, just as the participants and recipients represent the varied faces of America.WUA! afghans are distributed to individuals and families in need through community service organizations as well as through chapters of national organizations such as the American Red Cross. Sponsors of WUA! in communities around the country are encouraged to donate completed afghans within their own community in the true spirit of “neighbor helping neighbor.” Agencies to which the Foundation has donated afghans include women’s shelters, children’s hospitals, daycare centers and other community service centers.

WUA! also has a program called Kids Warm Up America! Young people across the country are teaming up with their peers to Warm Up America!, helping others, and in the process are discovering these crafts are fun and relaxing. Kids who participate benefit from providing community service while developing self esteem, problem solving, and math and motor-skill development while participating in an intergenerational activity that is a fun group project and provides the learning of an enjoyable skill that will last a lifetime. Additional ways to keep kids warm outside of our local community are accessible through the Warm Up America! Foundation.

If you know of any additional resources for families to either received or donated (services or articles of clothing) please share them with us in the comment section below.

Community Walk/Run in West Chesterfield

Gorge aprés Gorge at the Chesterfield Gorge

This is the time of year families are cooking and traveling and getting ready for their big Thanksgiving feast (= gorge #1). Following a Thanksgiving gorge, this is the time of the year area families are getting ready for the 5th Annual Gorge aprés Gorge at the Chesterfield Gorge in West Chesterfield (= gorge #2)! The GaG is a 3 mile walk/run (out & back) morning event for families to come together for exercise and a fun time, held on the Sunday following Thanksgiving. Go as long or as little as you want.

WHEN & WHERE?

  • Sunday, Nov. 30 @ 10am
    Chesterfield Gorge parking lot
    West Chesterfield, MA
    All are welcomed! It’s a family affair

WHAT TO EXPECT

  • It’s FREE.
  • If there is snow, bring your skies, snow shoes, or sleds. Or you can run and walk to make the 1.5 mile trek out to the first gate on a dirt fire road.
  • If there is sun, come run, bike, and/or walk.
  • Water will be available about 3/4 miles out.
  • Hot drinks will be served back at the parking lot, including coffee, tea, hot chocolate, and apple cider (bring mugs, if you want).


The Gorge aprés Gorge is organized by local resident (and mother of two) Leslie Charles and is supported by a Cultural Council Grant issued by the Chesterfield Cultural Council. Email: leslie@lacdesign.com
(Poster design by LAC Design, www.lacdesign.com)

V-log: Conway Festival of the Hills

V-log: Conway Festival of the Hills
by Tom Adams (Hilltown Families Contributing Writer)

Join the Adams’ on another family trip … this time to the Conway Festival of the Hills … 10 minutes of quintessential Hilltown Family fun: maple cotton candy, bunnies, dunking booths, a parade and a helicopter ride (well sorta). Perfect thing to do on a beautiful October Sunday afternoon! If you weren’t able to make it, after watching this video you’ll feel like you were right there! Enjoy.

Sweeten Up Your Summer With Local Fruit

Sweeten Up Your Summer
By CISA

Fresh Picked Blackberries at the Amherst Farmers Market - (c) Sienna Wildfield

Fresh Picked Blackberries at the Amherst Farmers' Market - (c) Sienna Wildfield

At the height of summer, nothing is more refreshing than biting into a piece of fresh, juicy fruit. If you’ve never tried farm-fresh fruits, you owe it to yourself to go find some. Nothing compares to the taste and texture of fully ripened locally grown fruits- particularly not under-ripe fruit shipped from far off places. Thankfully, here in the Valley, there are lots of ways to fill your fruit bowl with local fruit:

As local berries and fruits ripen, finding new ways to use the abundance can be exciting. Pies, cobblers, and tarts are delicious ideas, but fresh fruit shouldn’t be limited to desserts- add them to salads, breakfasts, or get creative with savory dishes. Want to enjoy these treats year-round? Read up on preserving your fruit for the rest of the year by freezing, drying, and jam making.

You may not always notice it at the grocery store, but summer fruits have their own micro-seasons of availability, so you’ve got to scoop them up when you get the chance. Keep in mind that harvest times vary from year to year, so it is always a good idea to call ahead to be sure that the products you want are available. For a list of local fruit producers, visit our online Farm Products Guide.

And if you find that you’re competing with the fruit flies for all that local fruit on your counter, try this: squirt some dish soap into a mug, add a glug of vinegar (locally available from Apex Orchards in Shelburne), and fill with water. Flies are attracted to the vinegar, but get caught in the soapsuds, especially if you’ve eaten, or covered, any fruit in your kitchen.

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