The Old Mill Trail of 127 acres is your best way to get at the upper reaches of the Housatonic River. Crane and Company conserved the land with MassWildlife and collaborated with the Housatonic Valley Association to build the trail. The Housatonic River suffers image problems due to PCB contamination south of Pittsfield, but the East Branch is clean and fast-flowing as it descends from Hinsdale. This accessible trail is a treat for trail users of all abilities. Travel past the end of the accessible section and across Route 8 for a pathway right at―and even in―the water’s edge.
SCROLL FOR TRAIL DESCRIPTION, PROPERTY DESCRIPTION, AND NATURAL HISTORY
From the center of Dalton: take Route 8 south to the Hinsdale line. From the town line, continue 4/10 miles to a left on Old Dalton Road. The trailhead parking is the first, immediate left.
GPS: 42.4480, -73.1305 (trailhead parking)
The first 0.7 miles of the Old Mill Trail is an accessible trail that follows the river north. After the accessible trail ends, the single track Old Mill Trail continues for 0.8 miles, crossing Route 8 and following the river downstream. After the Route 8 crossing, the first several hundred feet of beautifully crafted trail is at the river’s edge. The entire trail, out-and-back, is 3 miles and offers great views of the East Branch of the Housatonic River.
This trail connecting the communities of Dalton and Hinsdale, blends nature’s beauty with the history of the local nineteenth century textile mills
The Old Mill Trail was designed and constructed by Peter S. Jensen & Associates, LLC.
There is also an interpretive trail that installed by the Housatonic Valley Association, which highlights the natural history and mill history. There are two ways to experience the trail: you can grab a paper brochure at the trailhead or download the HP Reveal App and see the augmented reality videos.
The Old Mill Trail was an idea that came out of an East Branch Stream Assessment in 1999. Over 10 years and multiple grants, the Housatonic Valley Assosiation (HVA) coordinated the design and construction of the Old Mill Trail with support from the property owner, Crane & Company, and MassWildlife. Many volunteers worked to lay out the trail from 2000 – 2009. Final construction was completed in 2010 with funding support from the Natural Resources Damages Fund and the skill of Peter S. Jensen & Associates, LLC, professional trail crew builders. BNRC acquired the land in 2016.
The Housatonic River has a rich history. Native Americans used this area for fishing and hunting for about 10,000 years. The Mahicans, who were the last tribe to live here, called the Housatonic River, Hoo-es-ton-nuc- “the place beyond the mountains.” However, disease, wars and the European demand for land ownership gradually forced the Native Americans out of the area.
European settlement began in earnest after the end of the French and Indian War in 1759. Early settlers harnessed the river’s swift current for water power. Ruins of many mills are all that remain along the riverbank, including a breached dam, stone foundations and remnants of an impressive penstock—the channel that conveyed water to the mill.
Visitors and residents alike are drawn to the Housatonic River because of its natural beauty and recreational opportunities. The 149-mile river begins its journey to Long Island sound with its three headwater branches. The East, West, and Southwest Branches meet in Pittsfield to form the main stem of the Housatonic River.
The plants growing along the trail include Hemlock trees that prefer moist, cool ravines near the water. The shade they provide encourages growhth of shrubs such as hobble bush, with white flowers in spring. Cottonwoods, ash, willow, and silver maple along with shrubs such as honeysuckle and gray-stemmed dogwood tolerate the floodplain environment.
The plant communities create specific wildlife habitat. Barred owls and red squirrels, chickadees and brown creepers favor groves of evergreens. Songbirds such as song sparrows share the floodplain with voles, hawks, and muskrat. Other wildlife, such as mink, coyote, bear, deer, and pileated woodpeckers can be seen in many riverside habitats.