Three of my Favorite Spots in Massachusetts

With all the writing I do about serious environmental and regulatory issues, this seemed like a good time to switch focus and write instead about the more enjoyable side of the environment.  So today’s topic is three of my very favorite Massachusetts places: Bartholomew’s Cobble in Sheffield; Laughing Brook in Hampden; and 40 Steps in Nahant.  Each of these is a gem, but they are very different from each other.

Bartholomew’s Cobble – This 329 acre property, owned by the Trustees of the Reservations, is tucked into the southwestern corner of Massachusetts with Connecticut just to the south and New York state to the west.  We visit most falls during foliage season starting off at the small headquarters building, walking down the forest trail by the Housatonic River and finally heading up a steep trail to the top of the 1,000 foot elevation Hurlburt’s Hill for the spectacular view north into the Berkshires.

The property is named for the heavily weathered marble and quartzite boulders found along the trail paralleling the river.  The erosion of these boulders has caused the soil in the area to be atypically alkaline (most New England soils are acidic to neutral), as a result the area supports a large and rare assortment of wild plants, particularly ferns.  The variety of ecological niches present and the interesting history of the property make it a great day trip destination.

One warning: the mosquitoes can detract from a visit if they are out in force; that and the great foliage are why we opt for a visit in the fall after the first frost.

Laughing BrookLaughing Brook is a Mass Audubon Wildlife Sanctuary that is classic central New England hardwood forest land.   The 353 acre property includes a pond, Laughing Brook and wetland areas in addition to the upland forest.    At one time the sanctuary included a beautiful educational center, but it was sadly lost to a fire.

There is a 4-mile trail system in the sanctuary, which connects to other trails that meander through the Hampden Hills for quite a distance, and that goes by interesting stone outcrops and on top of an excellent example of an esker. 

Laughing Brook lacks dramatic views, but it is a great spot for a family trip and for introducing children to the joys of walking in the woods.  It is also a super spot for cross country skiing when the snow is right.

40 Steps – As painful as driving the Lynnway can be (its an urban traffic artery running north of Boston), I am thankful that it does limit the number of vehicles that make it to Nahant.  However, if you enjoy environmental settings like the rocky coast of Maine, then it may be worth fighting the Lynnway traffic to make a half-day trip to 40 Steps Beach on Nahant.

If you look at a map of Boston Harbor the furthest north land mass is likely to be Logan Airport or possibly Winthrop, a city located on an island just north of the airport.  However if you go further north up the coast, just past the City of Lynn, you will see the small town of Nahant located on two small islands.  The islands (known as little and big Nahant) are connected to the mainland by a causeway; 40 Steps is the name of a sand and stone covered beach on the eastern side of big Nahant.  There is no legal parking nearby and to get to the beach you need to walk down a set of winding stairs.  At one time there were about 40 rickety wooden steps leading down to the beach, and that’s where the name came from.

As difficult as it is to get there, 40 Steps (scroll down to the 4th photo on the linked web page) is a very special spot.  It is not really a good beach for kids; it’s an adult beach.  Not that there is anything untoward going-on (at least not when I have been there), but it’s a meditative setting for reading a book, watching the waves crashing on the rocks and just relaxing.  Not a lot for kids to do except to ask when it will be time to leave.

If you visit any of these special places I hope you enjoy them as much as I have.