December 2013: Mount Washington State Forest

South Egremont, Massachusetts

In the late 1600s Robert Livingston married into the wealthy Van Rennselear family of New York and soon parsed together an empire of 175,000 acres from the Hudson River eastward. In 1705 he swallowed large chunks of the Berkshires under the Patent of Westenhook. By this time a handful of Dutch families were already living in this area. English settlers began arriving to live on land granted as free towns by the Massachusetts Colonial Legislature. Livingston charged rent to these newcomers and tempers flared, culminating in the killing of William Race by a group of Livingston’s agents in 1755. When forty proprietors purchased a plantation on Taghconic Mountain (Mount Washington) in 1757, Livingston’s agents burned six farms. It took 17 years to resettle the area and the Town of Mount Washington was finally incorporated in 1779. 

The marquee canine hike in Mount Washington State Forest is the 2.8-mile trek to Alander Mountain and its expansive 270-degree views. You’ll be going down as much as up for most of the early going but after a double stream crossing it is straight up to the 2240-foot peak. Until the campground about halfway to the summit the going is on a wide jeep road and there will be plenty of unbridged stream crossings that your dog will happily bound through. You’ll finish on a traditional, rockstudded, often wet footpath. When your dog gets his fill of mountaintop views of the Hudson Valley and the Catskills you can return by the same route or continue across to the South Taconic Trail. Heading south, you’ll reach the tops of Mt. Brace and Mt. Frissell and close your full-day loop in the state forest on the Ashley Hill Trail. If you just want to walk your dog in the woods it is also possible to wander the trails without climbing the mountains on shorter loops.  

Charcoal, which burns hotter than plain wood, fueled the Colonial iron forges of the Berkshire-Taconic region. Ore discovered in Salisbury, Connecticut was hailed as the purest anywhere by its supporters. To keep these hungry blast furnaces aflame required the cutting of 600 acres of trees every year. The demand for charcoal eventually led to the complete destruction of all 120,000 acres of virgin forest in southwest Massachusetts. Charcoal is made by stacking, covering, and smoldering wood in outdoor kilns. Birch trees, which don’t mind the depleted soils, can often be found growing on an old charcoal site. Look for them along the Charcoal Pit Trail.

From Route 7 south of Great Barrington take Route 23/41 West for 4.9 miles to South Egremont. Turn left onto Route 41 South, then take the immediate right onto Mount Washington Road. Continue as it becomes East Street. The parking area is at Forest Headquarters on the right.