Basin Pond, Lee
Beautiful Basin Pond was, not once but twice, impounded behind a dam, the first time for 19th-century industrial hydropower, the second for 20th-century vacation home development. Both times, the dams collapsed with tragic results. A 2.5 mile trail notable for remarkable stone work leads to the dam ruins and a view of the pond.
GPS: 42.2959, -73.1612 (Trailhead parking)
Special features: BNRC maintained hiking trail to Basin Pond and breached dam
Directions to parking
From Lee: Take Route 20 East 4.1 miles and turn left on Becket Road. Drive .03 miles north and the trailhead parking will be on the left.
Not far from the bustle of one of the busiest intersections in Berkshire County – the confluence of the Lee Prime Outlets and the Massachusetts Turnpike – lies a 296-acre refuge from the high-speed world.
The folly of man vs. nature shaped the human and social history of Basin Pond. Not one but two dams were built to hold back the waters of the brook, forming first “Mud Pond,” then “Lake Lee,” and now a marshland called “Basin Pond.”
In 1873 East Lee mill owners built a dam at the pond outlet to provide a steady water supply for their manufacturing. Thirteen years later on April 20, 1886 the dam let go, destroying 25 mills and many homes and killing seven people. Described in one history book published shortly after the incident as the “Complete and Terrible Disaster at East Lee,” the deaths led to an inquest, but in the end no one could figure out which manufacturer had contributed to the dam’s construction.
Fast forward almost 100 years. The second dam was built in 1965 by two developers who formed the Cromwell-Wright Company to create a resort community that was heavily marketed in the 1960s as the “Lee Colony on the Lake.” This lake (now called LakeLee) was to be the magnet for a 100-lot leisure home development. Three years later, on March 24, 1968, the middle of the 25 foot earthen dam suddenly collapsed, cascading 12 million gallons of water down Greenwater Brook, killing two people in their Cape Street homes, and causing millions of dollars of damage. In the three years before the disaster, 15 lots were sold, and ten residences now border the south side of the wetland.
BNRC acquired the land when a donor purchased it from a bankrupt Clark-Aiken Co. and then gifted it to BNRC.
Surrounded by 2200′ high mountains to the north and east, Basin Pond is a large south-sloping drainage area adjacent to October Mountain State Forest in Lee . Hemlocks, oaks and hardwoods abound, but most unique is a boulder-strewn “natural amphitheatre” which the trail traverses. Elevation is minimal, but wear sturdy shoes – rocks can be slippery!
It’s a Jackson Pollock rock canvas arrayed around you, and you can’t help but be amused at the way the boulders are scattered so “artfully.” The trail takes a deliberate path through the biggest “array” and in one case passes right next to a huge and dramatic boulder that is perfectly designed for a photo op.
If you walk both sides of the loop you’ll have the delight of navigating five lovely stream crossings, one with a sturdy stone cap for crossing. Stop and listen to the play of water as the brooks tumble and cascade through rocks and chutes.
You might wonder, “What are all these rocks doing here?” Geologically, they are called a talus slope, which is an often concave landform associated with an accumulation of broken rock fragments at the base of crags, mountain cliffs, or valley shoulders. You’ll find no crags or cliffs here though–just a gently sloping topography that rises to higher land north of the BNRC property at Finerty Pond and the Appalachian Trail.
The trail drops down slightly to the “pond,” although you might rather call it a wetland, marshland or swamp. We have beavers to thank for the beautiful waters that stretch out below. The viewing platform rests on what is left of one side of the 1965 dam. It’s hard to imagine it giving way, but you can certainly get some perspective about how much water it held behind it and why there was so much damage below.
Cromwell and Wright wrote in 1966 that their resort development would be “an investment for generations of happiness in unspoiled America.” This proved not to be the case. Not until BNRC preserved these lands could such a hope for this “just plain exquisite” (George Wislocki) natural area be realized. For wildlife it represents a treasure trove of diverse habitat, and for us it has finally become a well-needed place of repose and recreation.
2. Hoosac Range
3. Basin Pond
4. Stevens Glen
6. Clam River
8. Bob’s Way
10. Housatonic Flats