Berkshire Hiking - Summer 2006
April showers bring May flowers? Everything is tossed on its ear these days as Monsoon May tried to obliterate April as the month of showers then tried to take on August for a few days and vie for the Heat Miser crown. Ah, the joys of New England weather (early evening yesterday was once of the nastiest thunderstorms I've heard in a good long with thunder salvos and cloud-to-ground lightning exploding dozens of times a minute). Summer officially begins June 21st the first day but t-shirt weather has been in full throttle for weeks so let the games begin! This email is to remind you not to miss summer before it's half over and also to note that on July 20th about a dozen new hiking trails along with a handful of bike trails and scenic drives will be added to Berkshire Hiking. So this year you'll receive two emails regarding summer...hope you don't mind the intrusion as we all get way too much email from people we've never met.
Tomorrow, June 3rd, is National Trail Days. It's a time of enjoyment, volunteering, and awareness. You can involve yourself in all three or just head out on a trail for a nice day. It's a reminder that nature is out there waiting to be discovered, explored, pampered, and protected. Visit the official website to find events or hikes taking place nearby (http://www.americanhiking.org). If you're new to hiking, or have kids and wanting to introduce them to hiking/nature, then visit a nature center such as a local Audubon (http://www.audubon.org) or just use Berkshire Hiking's website to find a hike nearby and venture out to celebrate Trials Day in your own special way.
Waterfalls are what you should visit the next week or two. With all the rain that poured out of the skies in May, plus the intermittent sprays we'll likely get the next two weeks, cascading water falling through ravines or diving down rocky mountainsides should be cinematic. Given New England's extreme weather shifts (such as last summer's near drought which led to less than spectacular waterfall viewing) it won't be long before the summer heat could render most waterfalls down to a trickle. You can always plan for a waterfall or river walk by visiting weather.com and clicking on the 10 day forecast. If you see a stretch where a downpour is on tap then you can head out the next day and be guaranteed a nice display. Just stay well away from water's edge during a major rain storm or a day following monsoon-like rains. The water rises beyond it's usual heights and loose earth that doesn't usually get saturated can make it dangerous when you're up close to a raging waterfall. Visit Berkshire Hiking water themes web page to plan out a day and find a hike that's right for you.
In mid/late June the Mountain Laurel (kalmia latifolia) blossom is an event you shouldn't miss. Pink and white blossom by the millions for less than a month. It's a unique natural event that is brief so plan ahead since by the second week of July it's winding down if not over. If you've never seen it, you really should make a point to get out there and don't be surprised if you find yourself making an annual pilgrimage (go to http://www.eNature.com and type in "mountain laurel" in the search box to learn more about Mountain Laurel). The Mountain Laurel is Connecticut's state flower but most Appalachian Mountain states along America's eastern regions enjoy the display. The Appalachian Trail winding through NY, CT, and MA is a great way to see the Laurel. Contact a local Appalachian Mountain Club since they offer numerous hikes for all abilities and likely have Mountain Laurel hikes on going (http://www.outdoors.org). Berkshire Hiking tour guides can also be hired out to create custom hikes which guarantee you'll see the best spots. New York City residents without a car can rent a van and drive up for the day or take Metro North where a Berkshire guide can pick you up, guide you into the Mountain Laurel, and have you back on the train to NY. Not that you would, but do NOT ingest (taste) the flower. The leaves and flowers contain poisons that are toxic to people and animals. It's a great defense system so you'll want to respect nature's ability to mess you up big time if you ignore this warning. Just enjoy the beauty and let the flowers do their thing. Keep an eye on toddlers who are in the "put everything in their mouth to test" phase. The smaller the person, the worse the toxic experience.
The later part of July and all of August is subtly beautiful. We assume all the natural highlights of summer have peaked out, and the hot weather may keep us from venturing off from the air conditioning or cool beaches. But wild flowers, berries (edible and not so edible so don't just pick and eat if you're not 100% sure!), butterflies, and hummingbirds put on quite a show and the later part of summer is a great time to explore open field hiking. It teems with life and activity as the near frenzy of motion signifies a peak of summer that will begin to wind down by mid September. Just one example is Jug End's majestic open field where honey bees are so numerous you can hear a distinct low rumble of their collective buzzing as you walk along the field's edge. Nature centers are fantastic destinations during summer. Usually bursting with life and information, it's a "can't miss" hiking experience where you can finally learn the names of certain flowers, birds, or insects you've seen before or learn a few new things. Nature centers also are great for children who may or may not show an interest in nature. Interesting facts/information along with easy trails make it a good first choice for youngsters being exposed to hiking and/or nature.
It's true that getting out real early before the summer noon sun bakes is the best strategy, but it's also true that dusk and dawn bring out the little buggers we know as mosquitoes. It all depends upon weather patterns but usually late July and in particular August bring out the little beasts in their biggest numbers and peak intensity. But they hate the hot sun during the day and good bug spray keeps them at bay during dusk or dawn. With good spray (it has to have DEET ingredient), you can hike in the cool morning air even through swampy or boggy zones where they tend to congregate and fester. If you're the type that doesn't mind a early morning or late afternoon heat then you should be able to find some wonderful fields all to yourself. If you're the type where a noontime bake is actually fun then you'll definitely have the field to yourself as well as a guarantee that mosquitoes won't harass you in a blazing summer sun...but pack the spray in case a deer fly decides to play dive-bomb with you.
It's a funny thing. People wait all winter for summer then wind up spending a lot of it indoors or off the trails. Keeping a slow pace, drinking a steady supply of water (don't over hydrate by guzzling gallons of water since we all now that we can dehydrate by not drinking enough before and during a hike but not many realize you can bloat yourself into over hydration), eating right, dressing appropriately, can lead to some of the best relaxing days you could have all year. Nothing better than hiking in to find a cool spot covered over by tall shady trees with a summer breeze calming our spirits and cooling our jets. This region offers up endless pockets of shady seats to take in amazing overviews...a good way to cool down on a hot summer day. Some of the greatest America writers used to climb up to find shady perches or a big tree by a river which allowed their creative juices to flow uninterrupted.
If you're a people person then consider joining a hiking club or group. Visit this page for more information (http://berkshirehiking.com/hikes/join.html). If you just want to browse a general "what's going on" list, visit the Things To Do page (http://berkshirehiking.com/to_do.html). Berkshire Hiking also has a free message board built into its web server so if anyone wants to start their own group you can be made the moderator of your own section where you can promote it and encourage others to join in. With work and life it's too much for me to start a message board and monitor it from the knuckleheads who eventually turn those things into juvenile cat fights and gibberish. But you could use Berkshire Hiking website to promote your group or locate like minded outdoor enthusiasts by starting a message board section that you control and monitor. Berkshire Hiking doesn't have the resources to teach you how but it can set up a section on a message board for you to administer on your own. For example, I've gotten a few requests from women over 40 but single and looking to meet people within that age range who are still very active and not necessarily looking to join a singles website or group. Starting your own message board is a good way to meet the type of people you'd like to venture out with. So if you're in CT, MA, NY, or NYC and thinking about starting an activity group, reply to this email if interested. You can also use Yahoo Groups or sites like My Space (scandalous news stories aside, it's actually a great way to meet people with similar interests). Berkshire Hiking will list your group if you start one up that focuses on outdoor activities in the NY, CT, or MA area.
If you happen to be near Danbury, CT., you can swing by Tarrywile Park (http://www.danbury.org/tarry/) where a ribbon cutting ceremony at noon Saturday will launch the official release of Charles Ives Trail. I spent a good amount of time in western Massachusetts where the inspiriation for Berkshire Hiking came about, but I grew up in Brookfield, CT and went to high school right across the street from Tarrywile in Danbury. I went through a "this place sucks" young guy phase which sent me out of state for 11 years and eventually to western Massachusetts where the trails are more mountainous and a bit less congested. A lot of that attitude came from a disappointment with local government ignoring the natural beauty of the region in favor of development for profit. Mountain biking, kayaking or hiking trails weren't high on the list of things to accomplish for local politicians and zoning boards. I was justified then of my criticism but I have to give credit where credit is due and eat my words that they'd never build an extensive trail system in greater Danbury where suburban sprawl reached a frenzied pace. It's hard to believe that in a county as densely populated as Fairfield County that a 14 mile hiking trail could not only go from concept to reality but to actually open sooner than expected. I grew up in this area and now live here again. They just don't do stuff like this here. Development comes before preservation. Money talks...hiking trails? bike paths? sidewalks along major roads? HA! Well, I will be personally thanking those that made this possible and without a doubt have a description of the trail ready by the first day of summer. It's a very exciting development since the trail could be linked with other trail systems such as Saugatuck with a potential of about 70 miles of continuous hiking in southern Fairfield County. I just never thought there were any people in this region who could accomplish such a thing. It's very encouraging to say the least and my hats off to them for sure.
If you're not into joining groups but still would like to have a local person take you out on a trail, Berkshire Hiking offers guided hikes throughout all of western Connecticut and Massachusetts as well as parts of New York state that borders CT and MA. Hiring a guide is a great way to introduce yourself to the area or hiking in general. Our guides can handle corporate outings, field trips for students, large groups of friends/family, or just one or two individuals looking for a little adventure. With each passing season the guides get a little better as far as planning out where are the best places to visit at a particular time of year. I personally have learned to stay away from waterfalls and river walks during a long dry summer heat...some people just don't get it but I finally did! Feel free to also contact Berkshire Hiking if you want to try something that doesn't involve hiking such as kayaking, horseback riding, rock climbing, parasailing, caving. We may be able to set something up for you or point in the direction of someone in the know.
Residents of New York City can easily hop on a train, visit the country, hike into nowhere, and be back home for a late dinner and movie. It may be more economical to rent a van if there's more than 4 in your group and then meet a guide at a trail or in town. But Berkshire Hiking has a minivan capable of accommodating 7 day hikers with light packs (or a smaller group of backpackers looking to be dropped off at an Appalachian Trail spot). A guide can pick you up at a Metro North train station, cruise you over to your hike, guide you in, stop off in town after wards to shop or pick up fresh veggies, and get you back to the train. Lunch can also be provided for an additional cost if you're the type that doesn't want to pack your own meal for the day.
Biking, kayaking, camping, taking a ride in the car, or being a little more adventurous by taking a scenic flight, offer up alternatives to hiking that may be more to your liking. Click on each one of those links on the main Berkshire Hiking web page to jump to a page listing information. Day trips are easy to plan and implement around this area and if you're thinking "overnighter" you'd likely want to browse the B&B page that lists bed/breakfast and hotels/motels throughout Hudson Valley, Litchfield Hills, and Berkshire Mountains.
No matter how you hit the trails, I hope you do. Enjoy your summer days and don't forget to actually get out there and soak it all in before it's all over! Is there any worse feeling knowing it's September and you didn't visit enough of the beach, the woods, the mountain top, ocean, long distance views, rivers and lakes, back-roads, wildflower fields, or hear enough of the songbirds or catch a glimpse of that hummingbird before they all head south and follow an endless summer their ancestors have passed on to them? That's the problem with the Northeast. Seasons typically last about the 3 months they are allotted on the calendar. It may be unpredictable as to exactly when it will happen, but it will get cold again. So get out now just as it's warming up in order to feel as though you had a summer to remember.
I wish you peace and tranquility in your life and hope that your summer outings are safe and joyful.
P.S. (Through the years a number of people have asked me to pass a few words on to dog owners in order that they may brush up on their "dog trail etiquette". So if you have a pooch to hike with you (dogs make great hiking companions) just remember that some folks genuinely don't like dogs approaching them uninvited, while others have a very real fear (terror) of dogs. I personally love dogs but sometimes a slobbering kiss all over the legs, unexpected crouch sniff (lovely, huh?), or a leap up with sharp muddy claws, isn't a fun thing while trying to enjoy a hike. Most dogs and their owners are really cool and most hikers love to meet up with a friendly dog. Owners also understand they should respect hikers space out on the trail but a few need a good old fashioned "enough with Scooby Doo (or Cujo) barking and slobbering all over me!". If you bring your dog out there, don't forget to keep him/her leashed if the signs say so (as is the case with nearly all trails listed on this site) and keep them close by your side when hikers approach. Doing so is just a simple act of kindness and respect since not everyone thinks it's cute to get a slobbering visit from a dog. If you don't have verbal control over your dog to come to you whenever you call out to it, you don't have control of your dog. Put it on a leash and that will make hikers feel safer about your dog and will protect the off trail ecosystem since dogs love to explore everything but that could take place in an area where bird eggs, nests, rare flowers are fragile and need a chance to survive trampling of feet...dog or human.
Keeping the dog leashed or right at your side until other hikers pass by is a good way to create a fellowship out on the trails. Showing that respect to other hikers makes them feel good and 9 times out of 10 will create another fan of your dog leaving a positive imprint. If you cannot verbally command your dog at all times then that dog should be leashed at all times since hikers come upon each other faster then you realize which usually produces a "I'll protect my master at all costs!" fierce stance and bark from the dog...not fun if you're on the bad end of that one. I for one usually have a treat for a pooch or at least a friendly petting session but just remember that a lot of folks are scared of dogs or just prefer not to interact with them. Respect that if you can. Thanks and don't forget to check your dog for ticks after getting off the trail.