Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary
Great music of all kinds is the heart of the Berkshires' cultural experience in Massachusetts. All summer, tens of thousands of weekenders ride up into the mountainous county on the west end of the state, escaping the heat of urban New York and Boston for musical bliss in the hills, primarily at Tanglewood, summer home of the Boston Symphony. But down in a hidden valley just a few miles from the violins and flutes, there is unforgettable music of another kind: delightfully warbling birdsong, at Massachusetts Audubon's Pleasant Valley Sanctuary.
Packed into the 1,314 acres of Pleasant Valley is remarkable diversity. Seven miles of trails meander through wetlands, meadows, hardwood forests, and up the eastern slope of Lenox Mountain. Among mammals, beavers are kings here. Their ponds (dammed sections of Yokun Brook) are strung like pearls on a necklace winding down the center of the valley and are dotted with impressive beaver lodges. If you admire hydro-engineering sites, beaver dams are a wonder of effort and efficiency, though the cost to surrounding tree life can be severe.
More of the same can be seen at Pleasant Valley's sister Audubon sanctuary, Canoe Meadows, nearby in the city of Pittsfield, on the Housatonic River. These properties form part of an extensive, growing network of protected lands throughout the Commonwealth of Massachusettsforty in all, including some inside crowded Boston. Massachusetts Audubon predates National Audubon and is regarded by many, here and abroad, as a model land conservation and environmental education organization.
The Taconic Range marks the Massachusetts New York border. Lenox Mountain (2,126 feet) rises sharply from Pleasant Valley (1,160 feet on the valley floor), an abrupt, dramatic western flank, casting cooling shadows on hot summer afternoons. Lime-rich soils in the northern section of the sanctuary accommodate various lime-loving plants not often seen in New England. Under a canopy of towering eastern hemlocks, a small gorge slices through marble bedrock near Bishop's Glen.
The mountaintop makes a fine destination for a modest 1.5-mile hike (huffing and puffing required along some steep ledges). You're just off sanctuary property at the top, likely to see (on a clear day) not only gorgeous, distant views to the west over the Taconics, maybe even to the Catskills in New York, and northward to the Green Mountains in Vermont, but also some trash left behind by nighttime revelers who ascend from a neighboring town. The mountain laurel blooms in June, making garlanded tunnels of white flowers out of ordinary hiking trails. The higher you climb, the better the flower show.
Intense logging in the 18th and 19th centuries, for hardwoods especially (beech, birch, maple), harvested fuel ideal for lime kilns and pig iron furnaces. The valleys were all cleared for farming. Much of western New England is second growth woodland today. Steep slopes, however, were always untouchable, and a bushwhacker at Pleasant Valley finds impressively tall, sturdy sugar maples, white birch, eastern hemlock, white pine, and northern red oak. The mountain is just barely high enough, at this latitude, to support some red spruce, common to the more northerly boreal forest. In the valley, the crosshatched bark of the white ash, the black cherry, and the ubiquitous sugar maple dominate. Anyone who has not seen New England's fall foliage must come here for the fiery red and yellow sugar maples alone.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication