November 9, 2010

Berkshire Cycling: Great Barrington Alford Loop 1 (part 1)

19 miles               Paved Roads
Towns: Great Barrington, Alford, Egremont, Sheffield, Great Barrington
Parking: Abandoned Fairgrounds, Rt. 7 Great Barrington

The riding here in the southern Housatonic River Valley is generally much flatter and the countryside more developed, with accompanying heavier traffic, than in the hilltowns or north county. This is a good ride if you're looking for something short and flat in south Berkshire County.
Leaving Great Barrington on Taconic Ave., the road climbed very gradually to the west towards Alford with its impressive old cemetery.  Today, many of the family names remain in the area. Alford is third smallest town in the Berkshires, with only about 400 people.
As I neared Alford, the architecture became quintessentially New England: white houses, red barns.  The village of Alford is pretty: its white wooden Methodist church sits on a small hill above the road, with Center Cemetery behind it. The tall, obelisk-like stones are an unusual site in graveyards in the Berkshires, where I usually see only small, simple markers.  This is the historic center of Alford; the town hall is right here also. The town, a farming community,  was settled in 1750 then  in 1769 split away from Great Barrington.  How important farming was to people’s lives here is easy to imagine by remembering the story of Aaron Kinne, a resident of Egremont and preacher in many  nearby towns. The story goes that there was a terrible drought in the early 1800s, and during a sermon he called for rain; the fields were parched, the crops dying. At the end of his prayer he added: “But after all our petitions, O God, we would not presume to dictate, but we would advise.” And actually, today it is … well, white houses, red auto garages, no longer so many red barns. Land prices here are far too high for most farmers, and even those working farms that have been in the family for generations are challenged. Berkshire County is losing its farms, and especially here in South County, which has what is probably the most fertile soil and gentlest climate in the County. At the side of the road there are many signs telling the passer-by the name of the house that sits next to the road: something-something farm, or something-something-else farm. But almost without exception these do not look like farms, or like market gardens. It is a shame to lose so many farms, and with them so much in the way of fresh local food and flavors. 

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