Trails in western MA as well as the eastern part of the state are experiencing high volumes of visitors presently as residents seek diversion from the confines of measures taken to slow the spread of Covid-19. Please beware of overcrowding on these trails, maintain physical distance from other visitors, and do not park outside designated parking areas. If a trail head parking area is full, plan to return another time. Your efforts to observe these measures will protect not only yourself but vulnerable others.
We recently visited friends who live near the Connecticut River and enjoyed getting out with them for some local walks. They took us to a spot underneath the French King Bridge, where we walked alongside the river and watched ducks searching for food in the frigid waters. We had often stopped at the bridge itself to gaze up and down the river, but we gained a very different perspective from down at river level. We parked at Cabot Camp in Montague and were able to walk across a pedestrian bridge over the Millers River right where it enters the Connecticut River. We walked along a quiet road that took us north along the Connecticut. The road goes underneath the bridge and farther north for several miles.
Later we visited the Great Falls Discovery Center on the edge of downtown Montague, and enjoyed the topographical map of the area, nature exhibits, and learned about the history of the area.
Next to the center is a giant hydropower station, a fish ladder to aid migrating fish past the giant power turbines,
and a Canal Side rail trail that follows the shore of the river and the canal in that area for 3.7 miles.
As we passed the hydropower turbines, we spotted signs inviting the public to get a closer look at the migrating fish headed upstream in the river through the fish ladder. The signs noted the ladder would be open for viewing in the spring. Much has changed since we visited, so it would be advisable to call before heading out.
A canal flows right next to the discovery center, and this time of year the water level was quite high in the canal. We found a bridge that took us across the canal, and against my beter judgment we crossed the bridge. It appeared to be solid, but it still felt alarming to stand right above such cold water rushing past at such velocity.
Large flocks of geese and gulls settled in the river just upstream of the hydropower turbines, until something stirred up the seagulls. They launched into the air as a flock and began wheeling around wildly above the river. My husband looked around, suspecting an eagle had startled the birds. Sure enough, we soon spotted a mature bald eagle soaring above the water. The eagle remained in the area for the next hour or so as we walked along the river, soaring across the river and then returning to a tall tree across the river from the rail trail. As far as we could tell, no gulls were harmed while we were there.
We stopped for lunch a block or so away from the visitor center, and I took a break at some benches along the sidewalk of the downtown area.
Someone has a sense of humor. I spotted this art installation along the sidewalk that made me smile.
After lunch, we headed toward Amherst, sort of following the river, when my husband thought he had spotted yet another eagle, this time sitting on a next high above the river.
We parked and walked back to see if we coulld get a better look, and confirmed that it was, in fact, an eagle settled on a nest, presumably sitting on its eggs. A wonderful sight to see, recalling that in the 1970s these birds were nearly driven to extinction until the U.S. banned the use of the pesticide DDT, and passed additonal legislation protecting these magnificent birds.
Stay well, and happy trails!
Marjorie Turner Hollman is a personal historian who loves the outdoors, and is the author of Easy Walks in Massachusetts, 2nd edition, More Easy Walks in Massachusetts, 2nd edition, and editor of Easy Walks and Paddles in the Ten Mile River Watershed. Just out is her latest book, Finding Easy Walks Wherever You Are.
She has been a freelance writer for numerous local, regional, and national publications for the past 20+ years, has helped numerous families to save their stories, and has recorded multiple veterans oral histories, now housed at the Library of Congress.