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The Berkshire Hatchery Trails - Three Delightful Loops

By Bonner McAllester

The Berkshire National Fish Hatchery is a national treasure, tucked up on the steep north side of the Konkapot Valley along Hatchery Road, also called River Road. Folks driving by may be surprised to see the sign proclaiming this to be a U.S. Fish and Wildlife project. In fact, the hatchery is run in a unique partnership between the federal agency and a local group of volunteers, the Berkshire Hatchery Foundation. This group keeps the grounds tidy, organizes educational and fund-raising activities, maintains a smooth relationship with the federal biologists, and feeds the fish. They also keep a daily presence there to monitor the fish and to welcome any visitors who may come by. The hatchery is open to the public, 9-4 every day. People are welcome to take a self-guided tour of the place and are very likely to find an informative guide available. Having learned all they can about Atlantic salmon and four kinds of trout, visitors may turn to the trails in the woods.

Start at the information kiosk and read all about fish and other things. Pick up a trail map and strike out to the southeast on the “Green Loop Trail.” Almost immediately (about 80 feet along), the Kettle Loop Trail cuts abruptly off west and takes a steep pitch up to the rim of the kettle. This is a remarkable glacial feature resembling a volcanic crater in sand and gravel. The depression is steep, dramatic, and conical, formed by a melting block of glacial ice. Hemlocks thrive in the glacial till, also paper birches to the east of the rim.

Follow the rim trail, marked with blue dots, about ¼ mile until it meets the main trail again, the one with the green arrows. At this point you can go left along an old road (marked with blue dots and with green arrows) and complete the Kettle Loop, ending back at the kiosk and parking lot. It you have a yen for more walking and more loops, turn right instead and follow the green arrows southeast. You will find helpful tree-identifying tags here and there, discover a plank bridge across a mossy seep, and join an old road heading upgrade and around to the north. Off to the right you’ll see a big rock slide and chucks of handsome quartzite. Keep on until you come to a red and white sign directing you either back to the hatchery or on towards Gould Farm. If you decide to head home, follow blue and green dots and complete this loop, called Shelby’s Trail, in another 800 feet. The trail ends behind the 1860’s farmhouse you passed driving in, a short walk from the parking lot and “fish tents.”

If more adventure and more altitude speak to your mood, follow the arrow on that red and white sign to the north, towards Gould Farm. Pass by a trail to the left and carry on about 1000 feet, climbing all the time until you come out of the dark hemlock woods into oak, ash, sugar maples and a much more open, deciduous forest. The trail levels out and on your left you’ll see the Upper Red Loop Trailhead. This trail is sometimes called “The Old CCC Trail” and it brings you right away to a rectangular rock-lined hole, probably one of several wells in the area designed to catch water on the fabulously productive hillside.

A deep aquifer provides clear cold water to the hatchery, stable at 45 degrees F, perfect for the developing little fish. Folks living along the road down by the Konkapot have excellent wells.

Next on the red trail (Old CCC Trail) you’ll bend sharply left, cross a natural rocky escarpment, and walk beside a steep ravine to your left. You are back in the hemlocks now, cool and dark. Suddenly the trail bends left and left again, and in a switchback. You might miss it, so watch for the red blazes.

Soon this trail brings you back to the Green Arrow mainline, and from here you can choose your way back to the hatchery: swing right very sharply on the blue and green dots trail (Shelby’s Trail), or take it the other direction, clockwise, back past the two mouths of the Kettle Loop Trail. You can’t get lost: just head downhill.

These Hatchery Trails offer a fine challenge to the planner of walks. The best advice is to amble along noticing all you can. Any turn you take will bring you back again, looping down to the parking lot eventually. If you are a true pioneer you can pass by the Old CCC Trail, stick with the Green Arrows, and see the fabulous “Pinnacle” on your left. This is a dramatic rocky knob well worth clambering up, though there is no trail. Hepaticas bloom here in early spring, both pink and purple, and glorious views reward the climber on the topmost knob. Directly below the summit is a high-elevation wet place, another sign of a good aquifer underlying this land. You may follow the well-marked Boundary Trail right or left, pass stone walls, old roads, and signs of Gould Farm’s forestry management practices. Now you have come to private land belonging to this famous residential community. The trails are maintained for the use of Gould Farm staff and guests. After a quick peek at the wetland, please return to the big “Fish Sign” and the hatchery land.

Directions:

From New Marlborough center, the Inn on the Green, follow Route 57 3½ miles to Hartsville. Turn right here on Hatchery Road and travel slightly more than ½ mile to the hatchery entrance. The gate is always open. At the time of this writing, you will find the road blocked just beyond this point. If, after your hike, you plan lunch at the Roadside Store on Route 23 in Monterey, you’ll have to backtrack to Hartsville and follow Corashire Rd. Hatchery Road awaits repairs after flood damage from the Konkapot.

For more information about the Berkshire National Fish Hatchery and its programs and projects, visit www.berksfish.org. Or better yet, visit the actual hatchery.