Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Robert Frost Trail

The 47-mile Robert Frost Trail runs from the Connecticut River in South Hadley to Ruggles Pond in Wendell State Forest, in west-central Massachusetts. A chunk of the trail passes through my hometown of Amherst, Massachusetts. Kodi and I are spending a view days here at Winterberry Farm, helping my parents with fall clean-up and taking in the scenery.

Kodi and I are just discovering the Robert Frost Trail, especially a section that begins in the Amethyst Brook Conservation Area, a favorite place for dog owners and their dogs.

The trail starts from a parking lot and leads into a meadow that is partly maintained for wildlife and partly used for community gardens. This first opening is where many of the dogs who visit this popular spot first greet each other. From there the trail enters a pine-hemlock woods that borders each side of Amethyst Brook. Earlier this summer the brook was nearly dry, but after recent rains the brook runs strong and clear.

Amethyst Brook

On our first few visits we walked a relatively short loop with other visitors and their dogs up one side of the brook and down the other; two sturdy bridges provide easy access over the brook. Yesterday and today Kodi and I ventured farther along the Robert Frost Trail, reaching the south and west facing ledges of Mt. Orient. Along the way we walked through dark hemlock forest, along a small tributary stream that bubbled out of the wooded mountainside, and then into a dry oak forest, before climbing out onto the ledges, shaded by hickories and white and chestnut oaks.

Chestnut oak, Quercus prinus

Chestnut oak is sometimes called rock oak or ridgetop oak, as it lives on dry, rocky sites. It is more common in the Appalachian region. The trees do not get very big, not nearly as big as their cousins the red and black oaks that also grow along this trail. Chestnut oak leaves are wedge-shaped with rounded lobes. The bark is deeply fissured.

Chestnut oak leaves and bark atop Mt. Orient

A rustic bench hung between two oaks offers a view west toward UMass Amherst and southwest toward the Holyoke Range. We reached this overlook after a relatively easy 45-minute hike from the Amethyst Brook parking lot. Kodi was looking to continue on the trail, but today we turned back.

A view toward UMass, Amherst from Mt. Orient ledges,
on the Robert Frost Trail

A view toward the Holyoke Range from the Mt. Orient ledges

A terrific brochure of the Robert Frost Trail is available online here. The brochure describes individual sections of the trail and includes a topographic map for each leg.

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