Catamount State Forest
The town of Catamount was originally settled in the early 1800's by a few loyal friends of a prominent Boston judge. These people all decided that the city life was getting a little nutty and headed west to find an area to call their own. Catamount hill (not to be confused with the ski area of the same name) seemed a perfect spot to settle.
They built a dam across the small stream and created a man-made pond (McLeod Pond today) to serve as a water source for the community. Over the hills land was cleared and planted. Animals were allowed to graze. The small community struggled with the hardships associated with taming new country.
But, the land was not easy to deal with. After many years of continuous struggle and loss, the area was abandoned just prior to the turn of the century. The severe winters with massive amounts of snow, the poor growing conditions in the rocky soil were simply not the hardships the children of the original settlers wanted to deal with.
Today, the farms are mostly overgrown. Stone walls and foundations in a dense hardwood forest are the only remaining signs of the little community. Well, that isn't all... The roads are still there. Badly eroded and unpassable by conventional transportation, it provides a playground for trail enthusiasts.
One claim to fame for the departed town of Catamount, in 1812 it was the first public schoolhouse in the United State to fly the American flag. The lands comprising the town now form part of the town of Colrain.
Catamount State Forest is still laced with trails, trails that for the most part are the historic remnants of the town of Catamount’s roads and pathways.
Fox example, the formerly graded Catamount Hill Road has been abandoned by the town and many sections of it are impassable to all but mountain bikers, hikers, and winter travelers. Its steep hills and rocky passages provide many challenges for the beginner.
However, the trails off this main road are what draw people to the Catamount State Forest. One set of trails climbs high to the top of the small mountain ridge. The vertical assents are steep and rock covered offering many difficult climbs. The flats although wide enough to fit a Jeep, are littered with rocks and the occasional bottomless mud hole.
These trails wander the length of the ridge to emerge at a spectacular ledge overlooking most of western Massachusetts. The towers of U-Mass at Amherst are visible to the east. To the west rise the higher Berkshire Mountains including a spectacular view of Mount Greylock which at 3491 feet is Massachusetts’ highest mountain. I was lucky enough to be on that ridge shortly after the massive rockslide on the slope's eastern flank. That slide is still visible today marring an otherwise forested slope. Under the right light conditions the newly exposed rock face almost glows from reflected sunlight. To the south, ridge after ridge of hills flow to northern Connecticut.
Other trails travel the wetter areas around the streams, mud, rocks, roots, and trees all coming together to provide challenge after challenge.
But this place offers far more than just a large network of challenging hilly trails, there is history here as well. Visit the boulder caves which served the early settlers as a place of worship. Find the stone marker placed off the trail to commemorate the first raising of the US flag above a schoolhouse. Visit the Farley family cemetery and see the final resting places of those pioneering settlers. Stop for a break on the shore of beautiful McLeod Pond knowing that few others have ever been there.
Fox, deer, black bear, owls and even the occasional bobcat are just a few of the animals which have made their presence known in the past few years. I see more now than when I first came to the area, as Massachusetts public lands are re-foresting.
Those not familiar with Catamount will find this state forest in the towns of Colrain, Charelmont and Heath about 15 miles west of Rt 91 just north of Rt. 2. It’s in the Griswoldville section of Colrain.
The hills and old town roads in this area are some of the best trails in all of New England. Groups from as far as Virginia have come up to explore these old roads
Some old woods roads leading out of the forest will drop you in the towns of Heath and Charlemont. It’s a good idea to bring a local road map in case you find it necessary to road ride back to your starting are. All of the dirt roads in the State Forest have been closed to vehicular traffic, save for snowmobiles in the winter.
Total trail mileage in the forest, including those closed dirt roads is about 20. I know of no map which shows all the trails in the state forest, even the USGS maps only show Catamount and Stacey road in part.
You’ll enjoy exploring Catamount State Forest. The scenic vistas from the ridge and lake will more than make up for the energy expended on the climb to get there.