Exploring D.A.R. State Forest, Goshen, MA

Jan 3 2013

By Gini Traub

Winter is such a funny season.  Easy to love.  Easy to loathe. 

We all have our lists: My “love” list includes the brightness of sun and moon on a smooth white landscape. Bare branches interlaced against a blue sky.  How a light cover of snow reveals the lay of the land. How icicles build icicles along a stream. You can fill in the rest with whatever is on your “love” list. 

Winter is also easy to loathe, and I hardly need to remind people of what’s on that list. So, what do you do when winter in the Valley is firmly in place? There’s winter’s gray slushy grandeur and there’s of my love/hate ambivalence to deal with. Well, I embrace the “love” part. I head to the hills of Goshen, Massachusetts, to D.A.R. State Forest with my circa-1982 cross-country skis. My companion brings his even-older set of skis. No matter. They do the job. 


Ice fishing is another popular activity at the D.A.R. State Forest in Goshen.

Why head to D.A.R. State Forest? First of all, the logistics make it a good choice: It’s free – no parking fee, no trail fee. The main road is unplowed heading northeast from the parking lot – groomed by park staff and further packed by snowmobiles. But by late winter, most of the snowmobilers are pretty scarce. Second, there’s the terrain: What a variety! When conditions are good, I feel like I’m perfect, an expert on hills and turns. Heading northeast from the parking lot, it’s uphill all the way to the fire tower. Then it’s nothing but downhill.  We choose the long route back, continuing the journey east into Ashfield, a whooping wild steep downhill that loops back up to the fire tower via Wing Hill Road and the Bobcat Trail. Or if time is short, we retrace our tracks, an out-and-back of roughly 3.5 miles. When conditions aren’t so great – hard ice, deep slush, we explore the flat, winding roads through the campground. 

There’s more to ski than the roads. A network of trails runs through the park. Many are suitable for cross-country skis. I’ve been skiing for over thirty years and am still a novice, not quite ready for most of them. My companion and I can ski companionably. My perpetually-novice and timid state does not conflict with his expert and more daring ski style.

Finally, and most of all, the aesthetics make it a joyous experience: Peace, quiet, solitude. The days are getting longer, the sun higher.  The snow stays fresh looking, streams sparkling clear. Varying snow conditions create ever-changing sounds and textures underfoot. We climb the fire tower and take in our beloved New England landscape.  

We always end our day at the wildlife blind not far from the parking lot. It’s open on the west-facing side gathering the afternoon sun’s warming rays. The three other sides have narrow lookouts where we can scan the marsh for critters that call it home. We snack on fruit, cheese and bread and enjoy the good-but-tired feeling.   

My “love” list is satisfied and then some.

Directions: Heading west on Route 9 from Northampton, take a right onto Route 112 North/ Cape Street. Continue for 0.7 miles. Park entrance is on the right.    

Gini Traub is an environmental educator with the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Originally published in the 50 Places for 50 Years blog at the Hitchcock Center for the Environment website

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