Clam River, Sandisfield
With 1.5 miles of frontage on the Clam River, this reserve offers great opportunities for anglers and anyone looking to avoid summer heat.
“Why,” the visitor asked, “is the river called the Clam River?” Whereupon a BNRC staff member stepped into the river, reached down, and pulled up a clam – actually a mussel, but let’s not be pedantic.
You don’t often hear about bivalves in the Berkshires, but there are an abundance of surprises on this splendid 550-acre Reserve. The Clam River Reserve consists of five separate parcels on the lively Clam River in Sandisfield. The northern parcels are bisected by Hammertown Rd, which on older maps is labelled “Montville-Beech Plain Road”.
GPS: 42.1081, -73.1080 (Trailhead parking)
Special features: Beautiful, romantic stream valley, canyon-like in spots with access to Clam River. Old stone foundations and millworks along this cold water stream. Abundant wildlife.
Directions to parking
Town Hall (four-season access):
From Pittsfield: Take Route 20 East through Lee. After passing under the Mass Pike, turn right on Route 102 and then take an immediate left onto Tyringham Road. Continue straight across Route 23 onto Town Hill Road. Follow this until it intersects with Route 57 in Sandisfield. Turn left onto 57, heading east. Continue on Route 57 for 1.5 miles and park on the left at the Sandisfield Town Hall Annex, which is the former Sandisfield School. Enter the woods at the east edge of the parking lot.
Hammertown Road (three-season access: closed in winter):
From Pittsfield: Take Route 20 East through Lee. After passing under the Mass Pike, turn right on Route 102 and then take an immediate left onto Tyringham Road. Continue straight across Route 23 onto Town Hill Road. Follow this until it intersects with Route 57 in Sandisfield. Turn left onto 57, heading east. Take the first left (it’s immediate, almost a U-turn) onto Hammertown Road. Continue for about 1.5 miles and park on the right in a small lot just before the Clam River bridge. The trail begins at the BNRC sign.
Walking the Reserve
Exploring the Clam River Reserve—for an hour, a morning, or a day—rewards you with another Berkshire experience of what is wild and untamed in the County and with a perspective that reaches back in history and forward to the future.
Clam River Loop:
From the Town Hall, you can access the Clam River Loop Trail. A 0.2-mile spur from the trailhead leads through a hardwood forest to the Loop Trail. The 1-mile loop follows old wood roads and new-built trail through hardwood, white pine, and hemlock forests. Total length of the spur + loop + spur is 1.4 miles.
Clam River Trail:
The Town Hall trailhead also provides access to the out-and-back Clam trail that parallels the River. From the Town Hall Annex to Hammertown Road and back is 3.3 miles. Most of the trail follows wood roads; stretches of new-built trail detour around wetlands. The trail runs along the Clam River, eventually bearing away from the river and climbing northwest past an old cellar hole, ending at Hammertown Road.
From the Hammertown Road trailhead, new-built trail follows the river downstream for 0.5 miles. This might be the prettiest section of a very pretty place: most of the trail is on top of steep banks overlooking the Clam River with a dense canopy of hemlocks shading steep, rocky banks. Departing from the river, the trail climbs 0.25 miles to the foundation of what must have been an imposing residence. Soon after the cellar hole, a wood road leads back to Hammertown Road; turn right and follow the Road down/north to the trailhead to complete a 1.6-mile loop.
The name Sandisfield is a tribute to Samuel Sandys, the first “Lord of Trade and the Plantations.” The largest town in the Berkshires at 53 sq. mi., Sandisfield is also the most sparsely populated with about 900 full-time residents.
The past left a strong footprint on the landscape in the form of cellar holes, foundations, orchards, and stone walls. These parcels are representative of historical land use patterns for this corner of New England. In the 1700s, early settlers of Montville and Beech Plain cleared fields, built sturdy cabins, planted crops, and eked out a living from the rocky soils. In the 1800s, tanneries and mills, powered by the Clam and Farmington Rivers, supplemented the huge logging industry, and farms and families prospered. The many stone walls here attest to livestock husbandry that peaked from 1810 to 1840 with the craze for raising Merino sheep. With the collapse of the wool markets and the lack of any railroad serving the area, farmers moved west to better soils. Many of those who stayed raised chickens. In the late 19th and early 20th century, a philanthropist brought many new York-based Jewish families who had emigrated from Eastern Europe and helped them get mortgages on failed farms. Look around for orchards near the foundations; the apples from these orchards were widely used to make hard cider – a welcome relief on a long, dark winter night.
In 2014 a large clearing on the south/east side of Hammertown Road was created. With a goal of creating habitat for the endangered New England Cottontail and other young-forest species, BNRC cleared 24 acres of mature forest. As the forest grows back, the bird-watching and hunting should be excellent. Trace paths into the clearing can be found by adventurous hikers.
2. Hoosac Range
3. Basin Pond
4. Stevens Glen
6. Clam River
8. Bob’s Way
10. Housatonic Flats