Eleven years ago, in May 2009, the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation commissioner decided to close Windsor State Forest to the public. Due to budget restraints, Mass DCR was no longer able to use the forest as an employee-operated park.
That changed in 2020, when the organization was able to raise funds to reopen the forest, whose history dates back nearly 100 years. With plans to welcome the public to the park in the spring of 2021, Connecting Point’s Brian Sullivan headed to the Berkshires to explore this historic remote nature preserve.
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Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: It was 11 years ago in May of 2009, when the commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation decided that due to budget restraints, the Windsor State Forest could no longer function as an employee-operated park.
That all changed in 2020, when the organization was able to raise the money needed to reopen the state forest, whose history dates back nearly 100 years. With plans to reopen the facility in the spring of 2021, Connecting Point’s, Brian Sullivan headed to this remote nature preserve to take a look.
Brain Sullivan, Connecting Point: There’s a place in the Berkshires where this brook and this brook converge with the east branch of the Westfield River. That seems pretty vague, seeing as they could be any number of tributaries out this way. But these waterways in particular reside on two of the more remote properties of the Department of Conservation and Recreation.
Located on a winding country road in the town of Windsor, Massachusetts, is the roughly 17,500 acre tract of land known as the Windsor State Forest. Stopping by in late October of 2020, we were greeted by these signs while a number of earth-moving vehicles populated the parking lot. When we came back in December of that year, this dumpster and this backhoe were all that remained.
Now, the netting and temporary fences may not be much to look at, but they represent upgrades that have been in the works since the park was shuttered due to the costs of keeping the facility staffed all the way back in 2009.
Raul Silva, Director of Facilities Engineering, Mass DCR: With staffing comes the amenities, the bathrooms, the contact station, the interpretive services, our ability to pick up trash, all of that went away. That’s all now coming back with this project.
Brian Sullivan: The good news for visitors who do make it out this way is that the forest itself never closed. Granted, there won’t be anyone in the contact station until the work is completed sometime in the spring of 2021. And the same goes for the comfort station of this way. But for those who like me, would like to get out and enjoy getting back to nature, it’s not only open to us, there’s also plenty to go around.
Mark Jester, Mountain District Manager, Mass DCR: This part of the park runs up. It’s a it’s a pretty much an uphill hike. There’s a number of trails are up in there and it abuts the Trustees of Reservation’s property up in back. So we’ve got miles of wilderness behind us.
Brian Sullivan: We were heading out on what’s known as the Steep Bank Brook Trail. So far, it’s living up to its name. And while sporting proper footwear and dressing in layers may seem like some of the more obvious things to keep in mind when hiking in the colder months, there are some other things I like to consider when heading out to Woodlands that I’ve never been to before, regardless of the season.
Whenever I hike a trail for the first time, if given the option, I prefer taking one that has a river that runs alongside it. And I do that for a couple of reasons. For one thing, the river serves as sort of a makeshift compass. So my right on the way up, on my left, on the way down.
And secondly, the view is always awesome. In our experience so far, each season seems to add a different layer of beauty to the landscape.
These are the old bridge abutments at the entrance to the park in December of 2020, and here they are in the fall of that same year. The same might be said for the other property less than a mile up the road from here. Here’s how it looked in the October. And then again in December.
And while drivers passing this sign along Route 9 may confuse the name of the site for that of a Berkshire summer concert series, there are those for whom the sound of rushing cascades of water is a symphony.
Mark Jester: That concert goes on year-round. When people talk about Windsor State Forest, they don’t call it Windsor State Forest they call it Windsor Jambs because they, that’s what they hear, that’s what they think about, and that’s what they see. But it’s a — it’s a beautiful natural waterfall that comes down through — races down through the part of it, dumps off into the Westfield River and some of it goes off and down into Pittsfield-Dalton area.
Brian Sullivan: The Jambs may not have the 50 and 60 foot falls like some other areas in the state, but what it does feature are these dramatic, sheer granite walls, some as high as 80 feet hovering over the flowing rapids below. Even though we drove to the falls, there are paths from the main site that visitors can take to get here.
And as it stands now, it won’t be long until this 1.5 million dollar project is completed and more visitors will be able to come here, park, hike and recreate in what will then be a fully staffed and functioning state park for the first time in over a decade.
Raul Silva: As of today, December, we’re about 85 percent complete. We’re going to be back in the spring to finish up that 15 percent and we expect to be reopened to the public next spring, summer and right through the season.