Often outdoor walking locations are “hiding in plain sight.” Locals know about what makes a specific place special. There may be a pull off for a good place to explore, but no sign is posted to assure visitors they have found the right location. The Keystone Arch Bridges trail starts in Chester MA and heads into Middlefield and Becket.
Clear signage has now been posted directing would be visitors where to find parking and get views of the dry laid stone railroad bridges that were built in the early 1840s to carry trains over the Westfield River. For background on the history of these bridges, learn more here. Information signs have been recently placed on Middlefield Road, next to Hebert Cross Road in Chester. Parking for about nine cars is available off road just past the sign.
The arches are truly beautiful, but the natural sights and sounds of waterfalls cascading towards the rushing Westfield River provide an aural landscape that invites visitors to stop often to look and listen. One keystone arch bridge was visible from the path almost as soon as we started out.
We began our walk along the cart path that follows the river. A brook tumbling down the mountain towards the river was a place to stop, first when we headed out, and once again upon our return. We spent several hours on the trial, so the afternoon light was quite different from when we started out earlier in the day.
We visited in February, and while there may be ice on the trail at times through the winter, when we followed the path alongside the river the ground was clear of snow and ice. We were able to walk with ease for a portion of the trail. Icicles of various lengths and shapes dangled in uneven layers underneath overhanging rocks alongside the trail.
Culverts allow nearby streams to flow under the path, reducing flooding of the trail. We found a number of places where water pooled, making forward progress challenging. Summer and fall may be better times to explore, but as it was we had a wonderful time regardless of the sloppy sections.
The Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife is the owner of the property the trail is located on. Prior to the construction of the trail the only access to these remarkable, seventy foot high bridges was by trespassing on CSX railroad property. Trail building along the present path next to the Westfield River began in 2000 and continues to today.
I kept stopping along the way to take in the sight and sounds of the rapids in the West Branch of the Westfield River. We reached a sturdy bridge over a steep cascade pouring into the river and crossed the bridge only to find that was the end of the trail, at least for me. We went a little farther but the steepness, the reduced width and slope of the path convinced us to turn back before I took a misstep and risked tumbling down the increasingly steep hillside toward the river.
Additional arched bridges are visible beyond where I stopped. Some of the path is easily navigable, but there are enough spots that are challenging that visitors need to beware of rocks, roots, and steep narrow portions of the trail await. If you need an Easy Walk, the early section of the trail fits the bill. Beyond the footbridge is for those more sure of foot than me. Whether a short walk or an extended hike, this is an area that has much to recommend it. Happy trails!
Marjorie Turner Hollman is a writer who loves the outdoors, and is the author of Easy Walks in Massachusetts, 2nd edition, More Easy Walks in Massachusetts, 2nd edition, Easy Walks and Paddles in the Ten Mile River Watershed, and Finding Easy Walks Wherever You Are. Her memoir, the backstory of Easy Walks, is My Liturgy of Easy Walks: Reclaiming hope in a world turned upside down.