Where We Went : Mass Audubon Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary / Lenox, MA
When We Went : End of June
Difficulty (Boots 1 - 10) : 1 Boot
Trail Length : 7 miles of trails
(All Persons Trail: 0.3 miles)
How Long it Took Us : 2.5 Hours
Overview : Gee whiz, Wally! Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary is 1,300 acres of hardwood forests, meadows, and wetlands at the foot of Lenox Mountain.
Established in 1929 by the Lenox Garden Club, the sanctuary celebrated it's 90th (!) year this season. The evolution and development that this property has experienced over the last 9 decades is full of inspiring stories of individual stewardship and organized benevolence. Collaborative efforts of 90 years (crazy, right!?) of hard work created a space where nature preservation and environmental education can walk hand in hand.
Many who think of Pleasant Valley do so because of the beavers. One of the more interesting stories is the re-introduction of these animals and the creation of the habitat that we see when we visit today. In October of 1932, Warden Stuyvesant Morris Pell (Scribblings Of An Outdoor Boy), introduced 3 beavers from New York to the area; a male, Paul Bunyan, who had lost both front paws in a trap, a female, Paula Bunyan, (the Cleavers weren't invented yet), and another male called Big Swede. The Bunyans immediately got down to building a dam. However, Big Swede, ostracized by P & P, escaped the pen during a rainstorm in November. In August of 1933, Big Swede made his vengeful return, attacking Paul, who suffered serious wounds to his back. Paul's lack of paws made caring for his injuries impossible and necessitated putting him down. The victorious Swede and widowed Paula raised 3 kits in 1934 and by 1935, beavers had spread across Berkshire County. Pell said that the beavers,"surpassed all expectations in building a dam, and the venture proved to be the chief drawing card of the Sanctuary during my entire stay there." They still are. Sanctuary events like "Evening at the Beaver Ponds"are ongoing and very popular.
Pell, passing at age 38, would never see the full impact of his role in enriching this area. He requested small hemlock trees to adorn his funeral. If you walk the sensory trail around Pike's Pond, take a moment of gratitude in the hemlock grove for Warden Pell. For a man who thought his education was lacking; much like a beaver transforms their surroundings, he surely left an indelible mark.
Passing into the hands of Mass Audubon in 1950, Pleasant Valley continues to be a driving force in land preservation, environmental education and ecological innovation. Canoe trips on the Housatonic River, nature camps, birding walks, art shows, trailside music performances, forest bathing, and various workshops and classes, to name just a few of the offerings at this powerhouse of a preserve.
What We Dug : We visited Pleasant Valley at the end of June, as celebrations for their 90th birthday were underway and the mountain laurel was really putting on a show! Bursts of the fragrant pink & white stars were blossoming everywhere, making our adventure one to remember.
We hiked the All Persons Trail/Pike's Pond Loop Trail. This trail is mostly flat and an easy 30-40 minute walk. One of the (many) great things about Pleasant Valley is that they provide numerous opportunities to interact with your surroundings. Download, print, or visit the main office to experience the "Sensory All Persons Trail Tour" in any season you visit. Before we hit the trail, we grabbed a "Peaceful Ponds Activity Guide" from the office and set off on our search. (Check out Resources below for more printable and seasonal activities). Red-winged blackbirds seemed to be everywhere and we hung out with some sunning catfish during a snack break. Time passed quickly while we looked for fish, frogs, beaver dams, and dragonflies. We didn't see any beavers aside from the furry, cardboard Jerry Mathers posing next to the barn!
The boardwalks and bridges are abundant, letting the kids get up close and personal with the water and multiflora around it. Every viewing platform was an opportunity to relax and drink in the sunshine, and also feed the insatiable horde we brought along with us. At the end of our trek, Mother Nature graced us with a warm summer rain shower.
Don't miss the Hummingbird Garden at the beginning of the All Persons Trail or the Nature Play Area at the end of the trail!
What We Could Do Without : Pleasant Valley is a widely popular nature preserve. This is not the hike if you're looking for low traffic, especially in the summer/fall months.
Keep Your Eyes Peeled For: BEAVERS, catfish, frogs, mountain laurel, skunk cabbage, joe pye weed, red trillium, forget-me-nots, azaleas, yellow flag, horsetail, white pine, beech, cottonwood, black birch, maple, red oak, common yellowthroat, swallows, red-winged blackbird, orioles
Must Know Before You Go’s : Free for Audubon Members & Lenox Residents, Fee for Non-Members, Facilities include a Nature Center (check website for hours), Restrooms, Universally Accessible Trail, and picnic area - trail materials available in large print, Braille, audio, and tactile formats. Borrow hands-free binoculars, audio players, field guides and walking canes at the main office during open hours.
Directions : From the Mass. Turnpike (Rt I-90): Take exit 2 (Lee) and follow Rt 20 west for 6.6 miles (Rt 20 merges with Rt 7). Turn left onto W Dugway Road and the sanctuary is 1.6 miles ahead on the right. GPS 42.382587, -73.298968
From the North: Take Rt 7 and Rt 20 south from Park Square in the center of Pittsfield for 4.9 miles. Turn right onto West Dugway Road and the sanctuary is 1.6 miles ahead on the right.
Scroll through for more photos of our Pleasant Valley adventure!