By CORI URBAN
If you’re floating ideas for things to do this summer to keep cool and have fun, cast your glance to Franklin County and its Connecticut and Deerfield rivers recreational opportunities.
Boating, fishing and tubing opportunities will make a splash with individuals and families alike from the hills of West County to the valley below.
And it’s not just the activities that are memorable; the views are spectacular.
“This part of the Connecticut (River) is quite rural and has a wide variety of views from cliffs to wide open fields,” said Carter Wall, government affairs and community relations manager for FirstLight Power, which offers a variety of activities on the river. “The water is mostly slow-moving and calm and navigable for a long distance. It’s also a great place to see wildlife.”
She suggests taking in The French King Gorge and Barton Cove. “The French King Gorge is quite narrow, with high walls, and has beautiful different types of stone on either side. North of the gorge in Northfield you can paddle past some of the most beautiful farms in New England and get some lovely wide-open views,” she said. “Barton Cove has beautiful cliffs along certain sections and nesting eagles.”
Whether you choose to kayak, canoe, motor boat, paddleboard, raft or fish, getting onto or into the water in Franklin County can be refreshing, relaxing or exhilarating.
Zoar Outdoor offers whitewater rafting on three sections of the Deerfield and two of the Connecticut, and according to Bruce D. Lessels, president, “must-stop" places along the Deerfield include Zoar Gap, Miami Beach and Dragon's Tooth. On the Connecticut, don’t miss Rock Dam.
Zoar Gap is the biggest rapid on the section below Fife Brook Dam and a place where many people access the river. There's also a great hiking trail from Zoar Gap that leads to the top of Negus Mountain. Miami Beach is a remote-feeling spot in the middle of the Zoar Gap section and a great place to play on surf waves or swim. Dragon's Tooth is one of the toughest rapids on the Monroe Bridge Dryway section of the Deerfield and a great place to spectate. “Rock Dam is a river-wide ledge that forms a really fun chute that is the most exciting rapid on this section,” he added.
Mike Didonna, owner of Deerfield Fly Shop — which offers guided tours and sells supplies — said there is “great” fly fishing all along the Deerfield River, especially from Fife Brook Dam in Florida to the Connecticut River; some sections are catch and release.
The Deerfield River offers great fly fishing and scenery: “You feel like you are 40 miles away from civilization and you forget about the stresses of daily living. … It’s a very scenic river,” he said.
Generally good choices for fly fishing on the Deerfield are dry flies, nymphs and streamers, he said, depending on the time of year.
Crab Apple Whitewater Inc. offers a variety of trips. “You can choose half-day and full day trips on mild, intermediate or wild whitewater as we coordinate our trips with regular dam releases from the many hydroelectric and flood control dams in the area,” explained Jennifer L. Mooney, manager. “We truly love what we do and the positive energy is infectious.”
Lessels said it's common for people to talk about overcoming a fear of rafting after experiencing the Zoar Gap raft trip, and they also frequently talk about what a great way it is for connecting with friends and family.
His favorites spot is the dryway below the #4 dam in Shelburne. “It's a really fun hidden whitewater section that features a long class II-III rapid and a particularly short shuttle that's easy to walk,” he said. “The put-in is down a steep, loose slope, so you need to be careful, but the run is worth the care.”
Spring, summer and fall each offer something special on the Connecticut River. “Obviously the foliage season in the fall is spectacular — particularly the French King Gorge, because the sides are so steep,” Wall said. “In spring and summer, the Rock Dam is a popular spot for fishing. In spring, the mountain laurels on the sides of the French King Gorge are amazing, and you can do great bird-watching in Barton Cove, particularly during migration season.”
Wall suggests pulling out at historic Cabot Camp where the Millers River meets the Connecticut, or paddling up the mouth of the Millers River, “a nice quiet spot for a paddle.” Munn’s Ferry has boat-access-only camping, very peaceful, right on the river.
Her tip for recreation on the river: It’s always quieter during the week. Lessels concurred: “Shoot for midweek or early/late season for the fewest crowds and the best opportunities to enjoy the river.”
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By DIANE BRONCACCIO
What’s more appealing than than bicycling by fragrant meadows, historic houses, or pastures dotted with cows? Or pedaling alongside meandering streams and vibrant fall foliage? Franklin County, Massachusetts offers up the New England landscapes of your dreams. Breathe in the fresh air and see it all close up, along the many bike trails running through the small towns and countryside.
The Franklin County Bikeway criss-crosses the region with roughly 240 miles of bicycle routes, including both non-motorized bike/pedestrian trails and designated bike lanes along streets and highways.
You’ll find designated bicycle loops and routes suited to every skill level.
“I would like to say we’ve got the best cycling in America,” Gary Briere of Rivers Edge Cycling says of Western Massachusetts. “You could find more dramatic landscapes, but what we have here, in Western New England, is this beauty and this ‘bicyclible’ scale. You can go from Northampton to Deerfield or Turners Falls – a 20-mile distance – and stop for coffee or a lunch in a village center.”
“We have the kind of attractions and services that cyclists need, and welcoming businesses and local foods that cyclists really enjoy,” he said.
Before starting Rivers Edge Cycling with his wife, Maureen, Briere spent 30 years working with state parks, promoting outdoor activities there. “This is where I wanted to be,” he said. “It’s really hard to find the kind of magic we have here,” he says.
Rivers Edge offers both custom tours and scheduled annual tours, which are posted at: www.riversedgecycling.com These include a Riverway Ride, which is an inn-to-inn weekend exploration of the Connecticut River Valley. Brooks, Books and Waterfalls is a 23-mile trip that includes the Sawmill River, the Connecticut River and the Montague Book Mill. The Back Roads and Main Streets tour is an eight-day, four state 300-mile trip. Rivers Edge has seen bicyclists come from all over the United States, as well as from Canada and Australia. Briere says the rides are tailored to individual needs. Also, Franklin County has several motels and bed-and breakfasts to accommodate those coming for more than a day’s ride.
The annual River Valley Ice Cream Ride has hosted up to 500 riders in one day for one of three road biking rides that include stops for Bart’s Ice Cream. Proceeds from this event benefit Turners Falls RiverCulture, MassBike of Pioneer Valley and CISA (Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture).
At 8 miles, the “Kiddie Scoop” is the shortest ice cream ride; but some riders have told Briere it was the longest bike ride they’ve ever taken. “That makes me happy,” he said, “because we’re creating rides that encourage people to do a little beyond what they have done before. Next year, instead of the Kiddie, they might try the 25-mile or the 50-mile ride.”
Maps of all Bikeway Routes in Franklin County, produced by the Franklin Regional Council of Governments, available at the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce, offer several bike “loops” along with detailed information about the mileage and difficulty of each route. Also available are online bike maps of the Connecticut River Byway, eastern Franklin County, western Franklin County, and central Franklin County.
Eastern Franklin County
The south eastern section of Franklin County (Leverett, Sunderland, Deerfield, and Montague) offer many road miles of level pedaling along riverfronts, and villages. For instance, the Leverett-Amherst loop, 13.4 intermediate miles, travels from Millers Falls Road through Montage Center and connects to North Amherst. The River Road Route (18.7 miles) begins at the southern end of the Canalside Trail Bike Path near the East Deerfield Railroad Yard, where there is a parking lot, and travels on River Road over the Deerfield-Sunderland bridge, connecting to the 9.4 mile Connecticut River Route, between Montague Center and Route 47 in Sunderland.
For a rigorous, advanced climb, take the 16-mile Franklin County-Vermont loop beginning at West Gill and Hoeshop roads, traveling north to Vermont and looping back to Mount Hermon Station Road.
Central Franklin County
In central Franklin County, there are intermediate bike touring loops through Greenfield and Turners Falls. An easy and interesting ride is the 3.6 mile Canalside Rail Trail. It crosses a few vehicular roads, but is mostly all bikes and pedestrians, from the Great Falls Discovery Center in Turners Falls to Deerfield. This trip offers glimpses of Turners Falls’ 19th century industrial architecture, the Connecticut River, the Power Canal and plenty of redwinged blackbirds in summertime, through a long stretch of meadows.
Greenfield has a 7.2 mile Leyden Road-Plain Road loop that includes the Riverside Greenway Bikepath, from the end of Woodard Road to Nash’s Mill Road, ending near the Green River Swimming Area. This stretch of paved path is out of vehicular traffic, while the rests of the loop is on shared roadway.
Western Franklin County
Western Franklin County, at the foothills of the Berkshire Mountains, is hilly and offers a more challenging terrain for advanced riders. The 31-mile West County loop begins at Route 112 in Ashfield, traveling downhill into Buckland and Charlemont, along the Deerfield River. From Charlemont, it follows 8A into Plainfield, then heads east onto Route 116, which leads back to Ashfield.
Downhill & cross-country
The Berkshire East Mountain Resort in Charlemont offers beginner-to-advanced downhill biking at its Thunder Mountain Bike Park. Ride the ski lift 1,000 vertical feet; then take your downhill bike on whichever trail is suited to your skill level and sense of adventure. Berkshire East rents downhill bikes, which have hydraulic disc brakes, strong suspension, knobbier tires and are designed for downhill use.
“When we opened, we were voted ‘Top Bike Park in New England’ on MTVParks.com. We have beginner-to-expert trails, including natural terrain as well as machine-built trails and jumplines,” says bike park director Gabriel Porter-Henry. “We’re currently building new trails, including an advance pro-jump line. We’re (also) a full-service mountain bike park.” Lessons are available to inexperienced downhill bikers, and the network of trails is set up as a progression, for people to use as their skills improve.
With the Deerfield River running right through town, Charlemont has become an outdoor adventure center with whitewater rafting, kayaking, fishing and zipline treetop tours, among other activities. In recent years, at least 30 miles of public mountain bike trails have been carved out the wooded hills from Berkshire East through the property of Zoar Outdoor Adventure Resort, a whitewater rafting and zip line resort owned by Bruce Lessels and Karen Blom. Some of these bike trails were laid along old ski trails that are no longer used, said Lessels. Members of the New England Mountain Biking Association also helped to build the trails. These trails are open to the public, but they are self-guided trips. Trail maps may be seen at Berkshire East and Zoar Outdoor. Both businesses have lodging and camping sites for those who want to extend their stay.
When biking further east, Riverside Picnic Area provides a perfect place for a rest and rejuvenation spot during a summer or fall bike ride. Located in Northfield along River Road and the Franklin County Bikeway, the riverside picnic tables and rest rooms offer a scenic spot to refill water bottles, stretch your legs and enjoy the beautiful Connecticut River. The area is open Memorial Day through Columbus Day and run by FirstLight Power.
Just across Route 63 from Riverview is Northfield Mountain’s Visitor Center and extensive trail system. Enjoy a quiet mountain top rest with three state views before an exhilarating descent. Perfect for the adventurous mountain biker, the hilly terrain offers over 20 miles of well-maintained trails. Choices include challenging uphill routes, thrilling downhill rides and meandering across the mountain’s forested trails.
By Diane Broncaccio
July 12-14, 2019
Summer wouldn’t be summer without the Green River Festival, a three-day feast of music and hot-air balloons on the scenic Greenfield Community College campus.
Now more than three decades old, this festival evolved from a one-shot, fifth-anniversary party in 1986 to celebrate a progressive music station, now called “The River.” The music of 10,000 Maniacs and NRBQ drew about 2,000 people to that first event. Since then, thousands have come for such headliners as Dr. John, Taj Mahal, Beausoliel, Norah Jones, Arlo Guthrie, Mavis Staples, Lucinda Williams, and the Avett Brothers.
This music festival is becoming legendary in its own right, combining a line-up of 30 to 40 acts on stage, local foods, beer and wine, handmade crafts a dance tent and plenty of activities for children.
It was included as one of 50 essential summer festivals in the New York Times and was also mentioned in Rolling Stone Magazine as a “must-see” music festival in 2015. Your seat is your picnic blanket or a lawn chair on the sprawling fields of the college campus.
April 26-May 5
Welcome to Franklin County ArtWeek events! This statewide 10-day innovative festival, presented by Highland Street Foundation and produced by the Boch Center, features hundreds of unique and creative experiences that are hands-on, interactive or offer behind-the-scenes access to artists or the creative process. This annual award-winning festival was born in Boston in 2013 and this is the first year it has expanded to serve communities all across Massachusetts.
ArtWeek works to spotlight how the creative economy is thriving in Massachusetts by offering unique and affordable neighborhood-based events that provide increased access to art, culture, and creativity. Through community and artistic collaborations, this festival provides experiences in dance, folk and traditional arts, fashion, media arts, spoken-word, poetry, writing, contemporary visual arts, music, opera, theater, design, film, and much more. Please find, below, events happening in Franklin County. Visit the ArtWeek website for more Western Mass events and the full list of state-wide events. Also check out Hampshire County ArtWeek events.
By Diane Broncaccio
Several hundred people satisfy their spring-fever wanderlust with a scenic drive through “pottery country,” during the annual Asparagus Valley Pottery Trail weekend in Western Massachusetts.
The free, self-guided tour takes visitors throughout Pioneer Valley to see the work of roughly two dozen potters in nine local potter’s studios.
The studios are located along the Connecticut River Valley, but the changing list of guest potters each year come from all over the country.
“We’ve had great potters come from all over the country,” says Tiffany Hilton, who is one of the artists who helps to promote the event. “It’s a great way for people to see where the creative process takes place – and (to see) the lifestyles of our artists. We also have a lot of hobby potters and student potters come around to get inspiration,” she said.
Nestled in the hills and along the rivers of Western Massachusetts you’ll find creative craft beverage producers offering small batch liquid art using the freshest local ingredients. Make an afternoon of drinking at the source. Meet the producers at some of our favorite cozy Franklin County tasting rooms and see how your libations are made. Roll the windows down and take a slow ride through landscape that yields what may become your next favorite drink.
March is Maple Month in Massachusetts and Franklin County sugarhouses are yielding the first taste of spring as the maple sap begins to flow. Whether you kick off spring with breakfast at a sugarhouse or pick up fresh maple products including syrup, candy, spread, or other maple items, there are delicious options awaiting.
With Franklin County’s rural landscape featuring more than 75 percent of its acreage in forest and open land, it is no surprise that winter recreation abounds. Whether your destination is a resort or multi-activity facility or a quiet pond, the most rural county in Massachusetts is sure to please. From downhill and cross-country skiing to snowshoeing and snowmobiling, we’ve got your winter adventures covered. Bring your sports equipment and hit one of the many state forest trails, or travel light and check out the full-service options at Berkshire East or Northfield Mountain. Make it a weekend and stay at a cozy inn or rustic cabin and dine out for delicious meals of locally sourced foods and be sure to sample local micro brews, wine, or spirits.
By Cori Urban
Matthew Cavanaugh photo
Almost a dozen years ago Bruce D. Lessels traveled with his wife and two daughters to Chile — where 22 years earlier he had trained for the U.S. Whitewater Team. When he stepped off the bus in the same town, the first person he saw called to him by name.
Perhaps it was a coincidence, but for Lessels, co-founder and co-owner with his wife, Karen J. Blom, of Zoar Outdoor Adventure Resort in Charlemont, it was memorable. It was through his passion for whitewater racing that he developed connections to Chile and to people there, and it is because of that passion that he hopes to help people connect to one another and to nature at ZOAR.
By Ben Watson
When Judith Maloney arrived in Franklin County with her husband Terry back in 1972, they had no idea they were going to settle down here. The couple had been living in San Francisco, where Terry had just completed his medical training at the University of California, and Judith had gotten her teaching certification.
“We figured this was just the cross-country road trip that everybody takes once in their lives,” Judith says.
But in this back-to-the-land era the young couple wound up buying a piece of land and settling in the town of Colrain, eventually building a post-and-beam house from timber harvested on Catamount Hill.
By Cori Urban
TURNERS FALLS—John D. McNamara has spent years hunting for treasure, and when asked what his favorite find has been, he smiles. It’s not an interesting industrial steel mold or a well-worn workbench or even drawings of silverware from the former Lunt Silversmiths.
“Erin,” he replies simply, looking at Erin K. MacLean, his business and life partner.
She blushes, and they laugh, the comfortable laugh shared between people who enjoy each other’s company and know each other well.
But if pressed for a favorite “thing,” he has found for Loot Found + Made, the business they run in Turners Falls, McNamara gives the nod to eye glass and fork and spoon super-sized steel or epoxy dies. “They are super decorative,” he says of the finds from about a dozen years ago.
Looking to get out of the office and into the fresh air? Been meaning to do more physical activities and eat more fresh fruit? What about getting in some fun outdoor activities with the family before the cold weather hits? Picking your own apples is the perfect way to check these items off your list.
Franklin County, has orchards dotting some of the most scenic landscapes in Massachusetts. Pick from century old trees located in orchards that have been in the family for generations or from newer experimental orchards. While you’re at it, take a break, bring a picnic lunch, and take in the scenery or refuel at some of the orchard restaurants. Here are four of our favorite pick your own spots.