Clam River, Sandisfield
With over a mile of frontage along the Clam River, this property offers great opportunities for anglers and anyone looking to avoid summer heat.
“Why,” the visitor asked, “is the river here called the Clam River?” Whereupon a BNRC staff member stepped into the river, reached down, and pulled up a clam!
One doesn’t often hear about bivalves in the Berkshires, but there is an abundance of surprises among the micro-ecosystems that make up this splendid 475 acre Reserve in the southeast corner of the Berkshires. Located “just down the road” a bit from the Lee/Rt. 102/Tyringham Rd. junction, the Clam River Reserve consists of five separate parcels that extend for two miles along the lively Clam River in Sandisfield. The northern parcels are located along and bisected by Hammertown Rd, which on maps is called the Montville-Beech Plain Rd.
GPS: 42.1081, -73.1080 (Trailhead parking)
Special features: Wood roads along Clam River and stream fishing
Directions to parking
From Pittsfield: Take Route 20 East through Lee. After passing under the Mass Pike, turn right on Rt. 102 and then take an immediate left onto Tyringham Road. Continue straight across the 23 onto Town Hill Road. Follow this until it intersects with Route 57 in Sandisfield. Turn left onto the 57, heading East. Take the first left (it’s immediate, almost a U-turn) onto Hammertown Road. Continue for one mile and park along the side of the road. Enter the property at the old stone wall, heading east. Beyond this, the road peters out at a bridge to become an unimproved road, best avoided in most seasons.
Alternatively, continue on Route 57 for 1.5 miles and park on the left at the Sandisfield Town Hall Annex building, which is the former Sandisfield School.
Walking the Reserve
From the Town Hall, walk south along 57 and the Buck River a very short distance, climb up a short inclined road to a level area, and continue into the woods until you come to a woods road running north-south. Take a left here and head north, and soon you will be paralleling the ClamRiver close to its western bank. The ClamRiver is rushing to its destination, the FarmingtonRiver, which is part of a drainage system that provides water for the greater Hartford area.
The woods road you are now on and that you will follow through the property was built for a logging operation. It runs along the ClamRiver in a northerly direction, eventually bearing away from the river and climbing in a northwest direction, ending after approximately two miles at an old stone wall and an exit onto Hammertown Rd.
If you decide to leave the road where it curves left and climbs and instead choose to bushwhack along the Clam River, be aware that the sides along the river in this section are often steep and wet (or icy). Walking can be dicey. You may also have to detour around a larger body of water and wetland at the northernmost section of the property. Be prepared if you go bushwhacking, and have a working knowledge of compass and map orienteering. If you are feeling uncertain, the fail safe is to follow the river upstream or downstream – either way, you’ll come to a road.
One option is to spot a car at the Town Hall Annex’s southern entrance and then drive back to Hammertown Road and begin at the north. The reward is a generally downhill walk—or in-season and with enough snow, a very pleasant woodland ski – to your car. Shortly after entering the woods from Hammertown Road, you come to an intriguing foundation. It has steps leading up to what was once the entrance to a structure, and the high foundation walls include several openings leading horizontally to vertical shafts, part of what may have been a sophisticated heating system! These chimneys and their holes are a mystery to think about as you explore.
One interesting parcel in the Reserve consists of 104 acres and extends on the west side of Hammertown Road along its northern end. Here are pure hemlock groves, rough cliffs, granite boulders, marshy areas, and springs, all creating difficult terrain for the average hiker. Numerous streams flow down through the hilly terrain—one surprisingly emerging from a cleft in the cliff rock, another disappearing underground to be heard flowing through the rocky soil beneath you. A few woods roads enter from Hammertown Road, but they do not go far. You might think twice about venturing in here, although it would definitely offer peace and solitude for the experienced hiker.
Note that snowmobiles are given permission on a year-by-year basis to use the main old woods road through the property, and this permission has been granted for the 2013-2014 winter. This property is also actively hunted, so know the firearms dates and wear blaze orange.
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 only about 900 full-time residents. This is good news for those seeking a quieter more remote recreational opportunity.
The past here leaves a strong footprint on the landscape in the form of cellar holes, foundations, orchards, and stone walls. These parcels can be considered representative of historical land use patterns for this area of New England. In the 1700s, early settlers in Montville and Beech Plain cleared fields, built sturdy cabins, planted crops, and eked out a hard living from the rocky soils. In the 1800s, tanneries and mills, powered by the Clam and FarmingtonRivers, 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 packed up and moved west to better soils. Many of those who stayed raised chickens. In the late 19th and early 20th century, a philanthropist brought many Jewish families who had immigrated from eastern Europe up from New York and helped them get mortgages on failed farms. Look around for orchards near the foundations; while the apples from these orchards may not have been perfect by our standards, they were widely used to make hard cider—a welcome relief on a long and dark winter’s day.
Plans for the Reserve
BNRC is participating in a grant program called the New England Cottontail Project. Due to predation and habitat loss, this native species is in decline. In an effort to create a more suitable habitat for the cottontail, an effort is underway to encourage small scale logging operations that create brushy areas for protection and that promote early successional herbaceous growth for food. BNRC started cutting for this purpose during the winter of 2013-2014 on several parcels located along Hammertown Rd.
Plans for the future include the creation of an easy 1-mile loop trail around the southern end of the property. This will allow hikers to start at the Town Hall Annex , loop south along a rise that overlooks the BuckRiver in a very pretty section of forest, continue around two vernal pools, and finally connect to the main woods road. Stay tuned for updates on trail construction.
Additional plans include installing signage and improving drainage for the main woods road, cleaning up brush and undergrowth around the dramatic foundation at the northern end of the property, and creating a trail from the foundation site past the small pond and wetlands and through the old mill ruins to the Hammertown Road bridge at the north end of 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. And look for those New England cottontail prints!
2. Hoosac Range
3. Basin Pond
4. Stevens Glen
6. Clam River
8. Bob’s Way
10. Housatonic Flats