May 3, 2011

Berkshire Cycling: Sheffield 1

13 miles                  Easy                  Paved and Dirt
Town: Sheffield
Park near Post Office on Rt. 7       

Typical Sheffield landscape
A warm sun, blooming trees and flowers, easy riding: just what I was looking for on Saturday’s ride with my friend Abby in Sheffield. Sheffield is about as close to Connecticut as you can get in the Berkshires. It’s on the Connecticut border, with geography much the same, a similar human and natural landscape, and a climate more like Connecticut than mine at home. 

Sheffield has some of the best, perhaps the best, soils in the county, thanks to the Housatonic River. It was traditionally an agricultural community, but today the economy is more influenced by the second home vacation market. And that demographic can also contribute to a pretty landscape and a healthy economy, though it is hard on the local farmers. Open, maintained fields remain, providing lovely views and coexisting with equally lovely remaining farms. 

This was another easy ride, the only challenging sections were short and provided by the recent maintenance of dirt roads, sometimes covered with a thick coat of 2-inch gravel. That was hard riding, but brief.
Marsh Marigolds

It’s a good place to go to find signs of spring. There were large, expansive areas of wetland plants: ramps (aka wild leeks, that I wrote about yesterday,) skunk cabbage, with its odd brown flower in stands that continued for at least a mile, broad swaths of bright yellow marsh marigolds that look more like buttercups than marigolds. All of these are plants that thrive in wetlands, the skunk cabbage in wooded swamps, marsh marigold in slowly moving streams, ramps in wet, fertile soil.

Skunk cabbage unfurling

We rode past a large (maybe 15-foot wide) tall (perhaps 6-foot) round, stone structure, with an opening for a door, but now no roof. It was a mystery, clearly built with skill and care, but for what? A root cellar? An icehouse? How old? Why round? In Sheffield, if you leave your bike and walk in the grass or the woods, anywhere off pavement, you need to check very closely for deer ticks. These are tiny (the size of a pinhead) red ticks that frequently transmit Lyme disease, a nasty thing no one wants to get. They are very common the further south you are in the Berkshires, and move around on mice and small rodents as much as deer. I found one on my shoe when I left this round structure. 
Mystery stone structure

Before turning back north, we passed two Trustees of Reservations Properties: the Ashley House, in the 18th century home to Colonel John Ashley. Patriots met here to plan their struggle for freedom against the British, and Elizabeth Freeman, also known as Mum Bett, one of the Ashley’s slaves, sued for her own freedom and won in the 1780s, helping to end slavery in Massachusetts. Nearby Bartholomew’s Cobble was preserved in 1946 and contains about 330 acres, home to a large number of ferns, wildflowers and rocky outcrops, fields and river. It is a lovely spot for a walk. The Trustees were founded in 1891 and is a Massachusetts nonprofit that preserves historic, scenic and environmental landscapes in the state. The Trustees do extraordinary good work, and have preserved well over 37,000 acres across Massachusetts. I rode in their property Chesterfield Gorge last fall and often ski at Notchview in Windsor.

Trustees of Reservations
We turned back north and followed Route 7A, then 7 back to Sheffield. Route 7 has a good shoulder, but is always a busy road and will be even more trafficked in another month.

Roads: Route 7 south from Sheffield Center, right on Berkshire School Road, left onto Salisbury Road, left onto Foley Road, left onto Kelsey road, straight onto Barnum, right onto Legeyt, left onto Silver, right onto Blue Hill, right onto Rannapo to Cooper Hill. You’ll see signs for the two Trustees Properties. To loop back to Sheffield Center, follow your steps back to Rannapo, follow it to Route 7 and 7 north.

Berkshire Rides List

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