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Gate 31: Fishing Area II

Gate 31, otherwise known as Fishing Area 2, requires a fee and is one of only 3 places you must pay to park in the Quabbin. Should you resolve to go boating in the Quabbin, this is, in my opinion, the best of the three sanctioned launch areas. 1) because it allows a “top-to-bottom” method for exploration and, 2) because it also offers the option of launching a boat either directly into the Quabbin or in an adjacent lake section of the Quabbin.

Should you decide to delve into the Reservoir itself, you will either have to have a certificate from an authorized agent stating that your boat has been cleaned in accordance with Massachusetts State Law and DCR guidelines due to invasive Zebra Mollusks, or you will have to rent a motor boat from the DCR. In either case you will need, at a minimum, a one-day fishing license, a fishing pole, and a motorboat, as they are the ONLY authorized mode of transport permissible in the Quabbin (Pontoons not allowed) and children under 12 must wear life vests. If kayak or canoe are your choice, the adjacent pond I mentioned will be your venue. Otherwise there are rates for a half-day of boating as well as a full day and parking with a boat trailer will cost more. Boating season varies from year to year as does the launch and return times within each season. It’s best to contact the DCR directly to view schedules.
If you wanted to circumvent the parking fee, you could park outside the gate along the main road, but there may be laws against that and you could be subject to a fine. I only mention it because I see people doing that frequently. However, should you do so, be sure to bring a stroller or a wagon if you have small children. The walk to the parking area is not far for an adult, but kids will fritter the better half of their energy reserves just getting to the first waypoint along this journey, and certainly won’t be in any frame of mind or body to walk back when the fun is over.
Gate 31 can be found not far down the road on Route 122 in New Salem after turning where Route 202 (Daniel Shays Highway) splits from 122 at the flashing, yellow light. You will first catch sight of a giant sign that reads, “Fishing Area 2.” When you take the right turn into the driveway, you are immediately under a canopy of trees on a paved road that leads you through the gate and past a small utility shed on the left. After a bend to the right you are directed to turn left, toward the parking lot, at which time you can catch your initial glimpse of the water that makes the Quabbin a reservoir. Be sure to stop at the stop sign by the cabin and let them know whether your purpose is to go boating or just park and walk around. On my first outing they actually let me park for free since I told them I wouldn’t be long and they weren’t exactly short on residual parking spaces.
If you’re looking to hear about the boating experience and see the superlative views from the water, then you’ll have to come back and read “Quabbin Waters” followed by the gate from which I launched. This spot references the grounds immediately contiguous the Gate 31 area.
FYI prior to entering the parking area, there’s a nice bike trail to the end of the driveway on the left side, which allows you to continue on to the Fairview Hill area and beyond.
When you have parked your car, you will be able to navigate in 4 different directions around the parking area. The first is back to the bike trail I mentioned. Second, the boat launch area. Third, the pond situated across from the parking lot and down the road. And fourth, through the gate to the old main road, which leads northward to Spriggy Brook and then west to Millington (presently New Salem).

 

Looking into the water beyond the boat launch area, you see what you would expect from the Quabbin with blue waters and green trees. Directly across the water is Bassett Island, a lush, green, dense bouquet of trees hovering over the water. A narrow channel goes left (east) around the isle and a larger body of water travels around its north side to carry you into the northern-most parts of the Quabbin.
The total quantity of time you could spend in this first fragment of Gate 31 is perhaps no more than 15 minutes, as there is not much to see or do. I also prefer secluded locations, sparsely occupied by visitors and, depending on the day and time, Gate 31 normally has more visitor traffic than most places. If nothing else, they have 2 employees in the shed or working at any given time. There are restrooms on the hill here, too, in case you find the need.
If you travel across the street in the direction of the pond, you’ll see racks with canoes by the water that you can also lease from the DCR in the shed. Heading out to this inlet of water offers some analogous views to what’s on the other side, but appears to be less maintained and traversed. Lilly pads blanket the right side toward the shore, and arbitrary pond debris trails outward into the depths. Still, amid these innate interruptions, the lively content of the milieu capture your imagination with stalwart blues and effervescent greens. The tranquility of this nestle is shocking considering just a stone’s-throw away are the sights and sounds of steady sportsmen traffic and government toil.
The fourth area of Gate 31 takes you down a very lengthy road that, technically, doesn’t end until you get to Moosehorn Brook in New Salem. My journey took me only to just a little farther than Horseshoe Dam, just before the paved road turns to soil.
And speaking of paved roads- this old, main road is stroller-friendly, though you will hit a couple of patches of dirt that will compel either momentum or muscle to get through. The rolling hills of this road wind in archetypal, New England fashion, offering brilliant vistas left and right at every turn. Horseshoe Dam is one of the first, interesting sites along this road. It’s a pockmark, for lack of a better term, that allows water to drain and siphon away. It’s abutted to its upper side by two tangential pylons, which join in the center and shoot outward in order to partition the two boating areas. As you are on a viaduct in front of Horseshoe Dam, you can turn 180º to see another stunning sight in and around the waters. To me, this bridge by Horseshoe Dam is a “pivotal” one. It is here that you can view both boating areas in the Quabbin at the same time. Here, disparate to Bassett Island, the trees are recessed so as to impart a narrow, rock-strewn beach afore the trees, extricating the green from the blue.
As you continue your walk along the old, main road, you see more of the same, striking vegetation crowding both sides of this meandering, bouncy lane. Where the pavement ends, having been stroller-bound, I decided to turn around and head back. When I did, I realized that the “back-view” actually made the walk look completely different. I can ascribe this to the offset and waxing and waning of protruding vegetation along the road. They say that when you’re in the desert, you should look behind you every so often as you walk, so that on the way back you won’t get lost as easily. The same is true for any environment, really, as this day proved. If there were not one road the entire way, I just might have taken a wrong turn.

Green arrow indicates launch site for DCR rental boats, yellow will be discussed in “Quabbin Waters: Gate 31.” Above launch site shows path to pond and road to Horseshoe Dam.

Bicycle paths are normally marked on the trails, but it’s always best to check the DCR website for the latest information.

Bassett Island as seen from the boat launch


Boat launch


Kayak/canoe pond


Horseshoe Dam


Pivoting from Horseshoe Dam to the Reservoir


The road as seen from Horseshoe Dam back to the boat launch

On a cold, January morning I woke up before sunrise, laced my hiking boots, grabbed my Quabbin Reservation Guide map, and threw my hat in the ring of Gate 29 Trekkers. What I did not pack: my camera. Some might be wondering why I didn’t just turn around and get it once I realized I forgot it. For starters, I didn’t forget it; it was supposed to be a hiking affair, not a photo shoot. But secondly, even as close as I live to Gate 29, it’s still about 4 miles from my home and I had walked there, not driven. By the time I realized the photogenic potential of this place, I was easily 5 or 6 miles from home. So, forlornly, the pictures below had to be dramatically enhanced and edited in order to advance the quality.

So, without further delay, pull out your Quabbin Reservation Guides or observe the posted maps below and follow along as I outline this day-long, onerous journey.

I left my home and then traveled south along the 202/122 corridor until they split at the flashing, yellow light. I pressed on until I got to Gate 29, directly across from Elm Street (Gate 29 being an extension of Elm Street itself) where the Swift River Valley Historical Society is located. On the map, Gate 29 begins as a trail, which I followed until I got to the main road, which is depicted as a solid, black line on the map (all lines posted below will be yellow). I followed the black line until it ends at the water, just west of Rattlesnake [North].

From there, I broke brush by moving east in between Rattlesnake Hill & Pittman Hill until I reached a wide path, observably a main road once upon a time. At the “T” I went south, wandering along the west side of Pittman Hill, again until I reached the water. Then I backtracked up Pittman and then down, awaiting the path that edges the east side of Rattlesnake Hill for as long as about the lower third. Then I climbed up the side of Rattlesnake, followed the ridgeline, and came back down on the east side again. From there, I followed the road back until I looped to the black line once again. It took an entire day, and I walked between 12-16 miles that day.

While inbound at Gate 29, you are greeted not quite instantly with a divide to the left. This would be the quickest path to get to Gate 30. Having already visited that destination, I continued straight. Further ahead, there is another split, which will take you back to Gate 30 as well, or go right to stay on course.

Walking along [what is now] the black line on the map, heading southward, you are traversing the southeast slope of Harris Hill. I have yet to navigate this mount, since there are absolutely no trails leading to it, but will likely spend another day exploring here, for which there will be an unreservedly separate entry. Incontestably, its unsullied isolation will turn out a quite remarkable and unadulterated storyline.

Along this main road, you can see all the customary staples of the Quabbin: cellar holes, swampy bogs, roadside washouts, etc. Almost half way into the expedition, you encounter an impressive junction. Going west takes you to a village formerly known as Millington, and heading east takes you, ultimately, to Fishing Area 2. Continuing south is the road to Rattlesnake and Pittman.

Emerging from the canopy, you will be accosted by those pesky high-tension power lines. At this point, it’s important not to presuppose that following the clearing along the power lines is the best route if your aim is to see Rattlesnake Hill [North]. The faster route to Rattlesnake is, in fact, to go left near this point, not at it. However, the clearing under the power lines, although tempting, is nothing more than a trap! I don’t even understand how 4×4 trucks can make it through this marshy muddle. Virtually every step you take has to be circumspectly plotted. It’s either ice, or mud, or a sinkhole, or rigid micro-cliffs (capable of twisting your ankle) created by tires cutting through the mud while wet and then freezing in the winter, or a puddle hidden by grassy overgrowth –all dependent on which season it is. No matter how you break it down, it will actually take you longer to cut through by the power lines than it would to move farther up the road and work your way back.

The good news is there’s a site not far from that location where you can see the foundation of the first location of Herrick’s Tavern before it burned down in 1912. There’s a large billboard commemorating, which falls right at a fork in the road. Should your plan be to visit Rattlesnake Hill, make a U-turn back to the left and it will bring you out to the other end of those power lines. Continue south, and you will follow my journey to Pittman Hill on this day.

Aside from the occasional, relatively inconsequential trail branching left or right, there is not much along the rest of this road until you get closer to the water, according to anything I’ve found. As you draw closer to the water though, you will feel the anticipation of completion and accomplishment as you begin to see shards of water breaching the trees off to the west. Eventually you see the end of the road. In fact, you see it as it sinks into the water. Whenever I see something like this, I experience a culmination of conflict to include eerie sedation and evocative unrest. Knowing this was once a road traveled by residents whose homes are likely something I passed by moments ago without notice; perhaps once where children played or where neighborhood conversations and gatherings took place. Now, it lends itself to no more than a post-apocalyptic remnant, threadbare and surmounted by nature as a direct result of a deficiency in human initiative.

From this spot, find a way to cut over to the east. There’s an old driveway just before the water on the left. Walking up this driveway will lead to an open meadow on a pitched hill that can be seen from the water. To the right appears to be a quarry of sorts, and although there is nothing placed in the quarry presently, there is an impressive vantage point from which you can take gorgeous photos of the water along the precipice at the top of the quarry zone. Turn 180˚ from that vista and you will see one of the best preserved wells remaining in the Quabbin. The well is actually capped with a concrete slab, but someone has angled it obliquely so you can see down into the well. Bring a flashlight and you can look down about 20 feet.

The rest of this journey can be summarily explained by discriminating between the positive features of Rattlesnake and Pittman. Manifestly speaking, Pittman Hill contains some of the strangest tree growth formations I have seen in one location, while Rattlesnake Hill provides defiant climbs and rewarding views.

In particular, I was so impressed with two trees on Pittman Hill that I named them: Brontosaurus Tree and Bowtie Tree. Brontosaurus Tree is, of course, wrought much like a Brontosaurus. The unintended beneficial corollary, in this case, of taking a picture with my phone is that the tree is actually a little blurred at its base, making it appear to be an actual dinosaur in motion! Bowtie Tree takes on a much more puzzling and unique contour. This tree began growing at about a 45˚ angle. About 2 feet up from its trunk, it makes an approximate 170˚ turn downward. 12 inches later, it begins bending back in an upward direction, causing a “U,” until it passes its own stump and shoots nearly 90˚ back to an upward trend. Even after having bore witness to Redwood Trees in California, this is, by and large, one of the strangest tree I have ever seen. Understanding that all plant life grows toward light, one must question what warped fragments of light were exposed to this mutant growth and in what capacity or with what intermittent frequency.

Maneuvering down Pittman Hill’s north side attempts to bring the traveler back to a reminder of civilization as you can see logging efforts with large cleared lots as you go. Reaching the path used on the way in, I headed north past the “T” so that I was now hiking along the east side of Rattlesnake Hill [North]. Consequently, this is the more attractive side. This is the side that most people see by taking the fork backwards from the site of the old Herrick’s Tavern.

Along this route, you travel on a road that is, at one point, within inches of Quabbin water, giving way to a partial view of Bassett Island. Just beyond this point is where the summit to Rattlesnake can be found.

The sight is initially overwhelming; awesome, to say the very least. There is one part of the rise to Rattlesnake that defies the foundations of physics; I call it The Flintstone Awning. It is merely a stone plate, roughly one foot thick and 25-30 feet long, that protrudes horizontally from the edge of the mountain by about 10 or 15 feet. It creates a rock crown above an easily navigable platform below, complete with tabled plateaus, making a perfect picnicking venue.

From the top, Rattlesnake doesn’t have quite the view as some places in the Quabbin, but it has less to do with a lack of elevation than it does with overgrowth and basic vegetation. Still, the view is well-worth the climb!

I would recommend not going back down the mountain the same way you went up. The climb can be vertical at times. However, from the perspective of exploration, returning the way you entered is only counter-intuitive to the doctrine of exploration! If there’s a different way out, you should take it.

On the return, you come out by the fork in the road near Herrick’s Tavern. En route, there are all the standard hallmarks of the Quabbin that I mentioned on the way in. One baffling section past the power lines is where there’s a property line by the road, but then another one inset from the road, as if there was once a stretch of eminent domain permanently etched as a boundary.

Gate 29 is easily a 12-hour adventure if you’re to see it all. Based on my several visits to this one location, it’s apparent to me that most people travel the length of the main part of the road and voyage possibly as far as Rattlesnake. Very few people actually climb the mountain, and even fewer journey past to see Pittman Hill. Ultimately, Gate 29 can be a meeting place for friends or strangers, or it can be a refuge to get away from all signs of civilization.

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Plateau at the end of Gate 29

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Pittman height

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Pittman length

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Rattlesnake height

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Rattlesnake length

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Gate 29 to plateau
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The sign marking the previous location of Herrick’s Tavern.

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A well preserved well!

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A look into the well.

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The view from the edge of the quarry’s cliff.

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Brontosaurus Tree

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Bowtie Tree

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From the summit of Rattlesnake Hill.

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The summit of Rattlesnake.

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Marked trees. Completely random. No apparent method to this madness.

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The Flintstone Awning

 

Gate 30 holds within its margin a relic of Quabbin chronicle that is still luridly tangible today. In 1866, a man named Adolphus Porter is credited with the construction of this bridge. It is said that he had assistance, but how much help he had is speculative, as is the extent of time it took to assemble. One consistent and very noteworthy factor remains, however, and that is that the bridge, built nearly 150 years ago, still stands today after being built by hand and with no mortar to seal it together! Rivaling modern machinery, Keystone Bridge in the Quabbin Reservoir forces one to acknowledge and validate the value of taking pride in your own labor, as its fruit and longevity transcend time, weather, traffic, politics, and every otherwise caustic force to genuine craftsmanship and American initiative.

Simply find where Route 122 splits from Route 202 and start south for about 2 football-fields’ distance to find Gate 30 on the right, directly across from Orange Road in New Salem (In truth, the Keystone Bridge is a share of Orange Road, but the crossroads of 122 and Orange Road were turned into a “T” when the Valley was flooded).

Keystone Bridge is so close to the gate, it’s scarcely worth measuring the actual expanse. From the gate, the average person could pitch a rock to it and if standing on the bridge you could realistically throw a rock at passing traffic on Route 122.

Prior to crossing the bridge, there is a well-camouflaged series of steps to the left, granting approach to the brook passing beneath the bridge. That “brook” is more widely known as the middle branch of the Swift River. Not only does Gate 30 house Keystone Bridge, but that bridge, an icon in and of itself, once provided safe passage over what has become one of the 3 main feeds to the Quabbin Reservoir.

The southward drift of the water is diffident, bearing in mind it lends to a 412 billion gallon basin. Watching it pass you by is almost derisory if you see it knowing what it creates. A beautiful and nostalgic sight, she is. The Keystone Bridge would humble even the most adroit Engineer today.

The photos speak for themselves, and I encourage every reader to not speculate on this entry alone, but to see the photos below, look for other photos online, and conduct an internet search for the history and construction of this bridge. Gate 30 goes well beyond the bridge to convene with the roads of Gate 29, and several cellar holes and other interesting phenomena can be found in this neighborhood as well.

Although I’ve never seen another person other than with whom I’ve traveled at this gate, people frequent this location for its bike paths but, above all, for the inscrutability and prestige associated with the Keystone Bridge.

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North side of Keystone Bridge; a less frequently seen image as it’s not nearly as impressive as the south side

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I see these frequently throughout the Quabbin where there’s a stream of any sort. I call them “Iced-Tea Lights” as they resemble tea-lights but are, of course, ice.

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Keystone Bridge

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Cellar hole vicinity Gate 30, slightly closer to Gate 29.

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Close-up of bent trees, most likely a moose’s resting place

 

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Black & Whites always make good photos, creating an element of nostalgia.

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An infamous shot of Keystone Bridge. You can find this general angle in many places around the web.

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The path to Keystone Bridge

 

Soapstone Hill

Soapstone Hill is accessed through Gate 36 in the East Quabbin, off of Route 122 in Petersham, Massachusetts. The turn is across from the Federated Women’s State Forest, marked by a sign that indicates it breaches the road to where you’re going as well. It’s an unusually lengthy driveway off the main road, which twists and turns down a hill. At the end, there will be a “T,” before which you can park on the right.

Once parked, go to the “T” in the road and go right. You will immediately see a gate, not necessarily the gate (Gate 36), and beyond it is the one and only campground in all of the Quabbin Reservoir.

Walking down the discontinued road is emblematic of most other roads in the Quabbin; charming, picturesque, silent, justifiably pretentious.

After only minutes of walking, you come to the first landmark. A divide in the road subsists along this path that holds at its forward crest a stone wall, extricating roadway from private property. The forward-most stone has a serration where a directional plaque once sat, directing travelers along their respective avenues.

Remain on course to the left fork and it will take you to the only campground in the Quabbin. As you drift down this road, you will look left and right to see inimitable sites every 100 feet or so. In due course, you will come to a clearing on the left with several picnic tables and paths shooting out in various directions. Continuing onward will take you up a sizeable hill.

The hill leads to the Gate; Gate 36. At this mark, the campsite ends and the excursion truly begins.

Passing through this gate is like traveling through a portico. Where you were once traveling along a thoroughfare that is unmistakably still traversed by automobiles, now you are on a footpath, scarcely broad enough to be considered negotiable at some points. The invasive shrubs taunt you as you pass, audaciously interfering with your ability to hike, yet modest and receding enough to entice you to continue.

After just a few minutes, begin looking left for even narrower paths. You can take almost any of them, but some are, of course, easier to engage than others. However, as you might expect, every avenue of approach to Soapstone Hill holds comparative beauty to another.

One path I’m principally fond of, has a small meadow of pines emerging through the compost of leaves left behind by generations of trees above them. It also has a woodland canal, carving its way through the dense forest and zigzags left and right, edging the ebb and flow of this gauntlet.

When the path narrows and straightens, you will be guided up a hill to the right. When atop its rise, you wax and wane left and right across a plateau, followed by unassuming elevations and depressions. Finally, you will encounter the only remaining rise and loop back to the right.

Once this trail concludes, you will finally be atop. Soapstone Hill is, in point of fact, the single-most, consummate and exceptionally superior, innate vista in the entire Quabbin Reservoir. It allows you to see clearly for miles. Hills, mountains, islands, water, foliage, wildlife, canyons, draws, spurs, and incalculable other Quabbin wonders. Soapstone Hill grants to the common traveler, a sense and capacity of celestial synopsis.  At 891 feet at its highest point, it falls just 264 feet short of the highest point in the Quabbin Reservoir, located on Prescott Peninsula, and 209 feet more shallow than the highest non-restricted hills, found in several locations. However, none of those 1100 foot summits or the hill on Prescott provide a greater view.

Soapstone Hill is not too dissimilar from the rest of the Quabbin when you consider the truth that it’s a striking venue no matter the season, but is a multiplicity of other adjectives such as matchless, exceptional, fastidious, and breathtaking when you account for the characteristics conducive to the panorama, separating it from any other place.

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View of The Pass from atop Soapstone

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The walkway leading to the fork.

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A close-up of the fork. Look closely and you can see the middle stone where the directional plaque used to be.

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A standard sight in the Quabbin. A cellar hole, reminding us of a once-inhabited section of land. Above this site was once someone’s home with walls that, if they were able, would speak of memories.

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The woodland canal leading to the summit of Soapstone Hill.

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At the bottom of this hill is the clearing (right, in this photo) where the campground is.

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Shown here is a close-up of “The Pass” from the Petersham side. Mt. Zion is on the left, Mt L on the right.

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An image of Soapstone hill’s spectacular view.

Gate 35: The Short Haul

Gate 35 can be found on Old North Dana Road, in the East Quabbin (New Salem) just off of Route 122. If traveling south on 122, go past North and South Spectacle Ponds, and then look for the 45˚ turn to the right where you’ll see a sign for a local lumber company (Old North Dana Road). If traveling north, you will pass the Federated Women’s Club State Forest on your left, then cross into New Salem from Petersham and look for the 45˚ turn to the left which is Old Petersham Road. When you get to the “T,” you are at Old North Dana Road, where you would go left. Once on Old North Dana Road, follow it straight past the lumber mill entrance, and you’ll see the shiny, yellow gate labeled “35.”

So what’s today’s fun-fact for Gate 35, as I enjoy sharing (it seems) in almost every entry? Gate 35 is the shortest walk from parking to reservoir water anywhere in the North Quabbin, making it my choice setting for brisk walks with the kids.

Gate 35 is also one of those select locations that is aesthetically enjoyable regardless of season. While some places look better in summer or winter, and while others only look nice in this season or that, Gate 35 is a dazzling site any time of year.

After parking, you’ll walk through the gate and instantly be greeted with a choice of left or straight, accompanied by a DCR sign displaying relative information to the Quabbin and the Gate 35 borough.

Forking left will take you on an adventure of remarkable scope, meandering through the entire northern segment of the East Quabbin, connecting to the southern portion of the East Quabbin as well. It edges along the water for a few miles, offering stunning glimpses of the water and its radiant islands. Options to traverse east into the nadir peek at you with lavish regularity. The roadway at long last comes to a final turn at the edge of the North Dana Peninsula, across the water from Mt. L, and at the foot of Soapstone Hill, allowing you to skirt along its base.

Continuing straight, however, being the focus of this entry, will take you along a much shorter and family-friendly adventure that will surely goad as much enthusiasm and enjoyment in your children as would delving left, through the East Quabbin, would to any adult.

The long, spacious roads are moderately paved, with shifting asphalt here and there, but by no measure close to impossible to maneuver a stroller across. Along this trek you will see several character trees, assuming various shapes, twists, and growth patterns. The sunshade, at times, create wormhole-like tunnels in the distances, making it feel like you’re traveling through some sort of vegetative vortex.

After walking 2,000 feet (0.38 mile) you will have reached the Power Lines where you will see a road forking back to the right. This road is Blackington Road, leading back to Bassett Pond where you will also find Hackett’s Chimney. On the way, before you reach the chimney and, in fact, almost as soon as you re-enter the canopy, you will find an old tomb on the right. I forget the name of this location or the old cemetery that used to exist here, but this encapsulation was once used to store the recently deceased during the winter months so they could wait for the Spring thaw to bury them. The most I know is that the cemetery was located behind where this tomb presently exists.

However if, at this back-fork, you continue down the road, you will encounter a bend immediately at the end of which you will see the water to the Quabbin Reservoir, afore a seemingly small beach. From this point it is exactly half the distance to the water as you have, by this time, already walked. In other words, it’s 1,000 more feet to the beach and the water, marking this entire one-way journey as a 3,000-foot (0.57 mile) trip. The terrain is almost completely flat, with few subtle and virtually unnoticeable elevations and depressions along the way.

When you have finished this 1,000-foot stretch, you will be subject to an exquisite panorama. Emerging from the awning like a burrowing groundhog welcoming spring, the beach is reminiscent of a deserted island and beach lagoon, like on Gilligan’s Island.

In the spirit of what I had stated before, I’ve included photos of this area in a few different seasons, and at different times of day. Uprooted trees lay with roots extended in the air, reeds depose the foreground, and mist rises from the edges of the lagoon.

The beach offers fun for kids to play, being littered with rocks for skipping or tossing on the ice to see if it will break, while also offering a sense of relaxation for the adults to lay a blanket and have an afternoon picnic.

The sights out on the water include islands like Moore Island and Mt Russ, foliage here and there in all directions, and greenery lighting up the adjacent, sloping hills and mountains and islands!

In the winter you can hear the chiming of ice bumping into itself near the shoreline; in the summer you appreciate the calm, cool breeze shooting in from the water as if you were facing the Atlantic Ocean.

The residual life that persists rapidly gains a beauty of its own. It seems that each time I go to Gate 35, nothing ever looks the same, making it a dynamic site to visit with your family and friends frequently. As short of a walk as it is, it makes for an easy day out and a quick evening back to where you parked.

Rarely will you see more than one person at a time at this location. As I said, the terrain is very much stroller and kid-friendly, but if kids aren’t what you’re seeking to be around, and you want to simply enjoy the serenity of the Quabbin, remember that I’m the only person I know of who has ever brought kids out there, as I rarely see anyone at all.

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The pathway to the first opening

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The tomb

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Mt. Russ

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The Dana Town Common is almost certainly one of the most visited sites in the Quabbin Reservoir. It is the last standing testament and site dedicated to one of the 4 towns that were flooded in order to fill the reservoir.

The Common, in truth, consists of nothing more than a stone monument that states the term of incorporation and to whom it’s dedicated, as well as old cellar holes and pathways. However, it is an historic Quabbin venue nonetheless, and one that does sequester itself as the principal hub of the East Quabbin.

First, find Route 32A in either Ware, MA or Petersham, MA. If coming from the south (Ware), then you can access 32A from Route 9. If coming from the north (Petersham), you can access it from Route 122. Again, if traveling from Ware, follow Route 32 through Ware until it splits to 32A in Gilbertville. Then follow through Hardwick and then past the Hardwick-Petersham line. Soon after, you will pass Gate 41 on the left, then the East Branch of the Swift River, and then soon after, Gate 40 will be on your left. If you drive under high-tension power lines, you’ve gone too far.

Likewise, from the north, you turn south off of Route 122 onto 32A and follow the road south until you drive under those same power lines. Soon after, Gate 40 will be on the right. Look for the guardrail that has purple spray paint, displaying “G-40.” One indicator is that Gate 40 will appear to be at an intersection, so be sure to look for a road coming out directly across from Gate 40.

Once you’ve arrived, lock the doors and get started because you won’t be back for a while! It’s about 2 miles from where you park to the Common. Many people bring bikes because of this expanse. Furthermore, the Dana Town Common is only one location you can get to via Gate 40. There are some very bike-friendly trails forward of the Common, and the road from the parking lot to the common is almost completely asphalt which makes it bike-friendly as well.

So, needless to say, the road to Dana is long…long, but interesting! Along this road you will find several old cellar holes. The road itself is primarily under a canopy of trees, but breaks from time to time, showing lush, open fields. The entire road has only one diversion, which goes back to the left, leading to Pottapaug Pond.

When the road finally ends, you come to the Dana Town Common. Greeting you immediately over the rise in the road is a stone monument facing where the road forks. Both roads go around the center of the Common, and each side offers avenues for viewing the residual sights.

On the left there is a spot in the woods that offers a glimpse into an old cellar hole, the likes of which surpass intrinsic detail of any other I’ve seen in the Quabbin Reservoir. Not only is this foundation larger than most, but the walls of the cellar consist of symmetrically perfect balls of rock. The panorama of this historical remnant shows the precision of modern-day machinery, but with the hand crafted eminence of a day when people took their time, paid attention to detail, and took pride in the craftsmanship and consequence of their labor.

On the right there are no foundations to speak of, however there is a rock walkway that leads to where the old Town Hall used to be. Aside from that, there is a field left open to roam around.

The center, where the roads traverse, is also open with only a few, scattered trees encroaching on the landscape.

Alone, the Dana Town Common is a wonderful place to visit. It is largely a focal point of attraction to people who wish to visit the Quabbin and feel a sense of unanimity with its past. You will see more people along the road and at the Common than you would see in most places. Aside from Winsor Dam and the Visitor’s Center in the south, Dana Town Common is probably one of the most visited locations in the Quabbin.

However, once seen, there is little more to accomplish in this actual location. The real endeavor is to explore the trails and pathways aft the Common.

Furthermore, unless you have 12 hours per day for 4 or 5 days, you will need a bicycle in order to see the scope and detail of these trails and where they take you.

It’s a unique countenance to this part of the Quabbin, specific to the Gate 40 territory because in most other locations, you have the ability to enjoy a day by entering through one gate and, if necessary, exiting through another while being able to take pleasure in every aspect of your day-long journey devoid of the inhibition of time and being required to meet an exit deadline; that is to say, you don’t have to set a waypoint as a point of return in most places. You may survey and explore all day long and simply find another exit along the way.

Gate 40 is separated from all points south by Pottapaug Pond and the East Quabbin as a general rule possesses more depth than any other part of the Quabbin, making it considerably more difficult to be conjoined by other nearby entries.

The road to Dana is certainly a destination worth encountering to say the least; one that holds a sense of limitless adventure and exploration. At every intriguing curve in the road you will find yourself asking, “What’s next?

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Traveling south on Route 122, Gate 40 on the right

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Gate 40

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Distance from parking to divergence

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Total distance from parking to Common

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Dana Town Common

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Bicycle routes and restrictions

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Dana Town Common Monument

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The beautiful canopy that protects the road to Dana Town Common

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A foundation seen in the distance, quite a way from the road, with large levels of vegetative overgrowth.

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The road to Dana has larger numbers of larger sized cellars than most places you visit. This picture shows the exception to the Gate 40 rule.

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A unique looking foundation as it curves back to the left toward the rear wall

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Cellar hole on the road to Dana

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Exquisite craftsmanship shown here in the form of a cellar wall.

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The fine, pebblish foundation wall. Very pleasing to the eye.

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Dana Town Common. The road to Dana is off-camera to the right, just forward of where you see the monument.

Gate 54A is the first place in the Quabbin I ever visited, and so it is first in my priorities of dialogue. This gate is one of four gates that pilot directly into Quabbin Park, and is nearest to Winsor Dam. Being situated in the vicinity of DCR (Dept. of Conservation and Recreation) HQ, it is one of two central avenues to access the dam and Visitor’s Center (the other road is not actually a Quabbin gate, but only a road leading to a parking area). The focal attraction for this ingress, however, has less to do with tourism, and more to do with landmark and with the best man-made view in the Quabbin; a place I call Enfield Tower.

 

Enfield Tower is sometimes referred to as Lookout Tower or Quabbin Park Tower, but is not to be confused with Enfield Lookout, which is north of the tower, down the slope, and does not proffer quite the same viewing range as Enfield Tower.

 

Gate 54A is accessed through a driveway in the Quabbin Reservoir which draws from Route 9 in Ware. When you get toward the end of this driveway, there will be a pullover parking lot on the right, before the road forks. If you opt to fork left (which is more of a straight-ahead direction), then you’ll need to park in this side lot because there’s a locked gate, as driving by anyone other than DCR personnel is prohibited. Otherwise, as I did, you may fork right in your vehicle to continue along the road.

 

Immediately on your left as you make that right turn, you can glance down and see a small waterway. As you move further around the left bend, you lose sight of all water and become inundated with forest on both left and right.

 

Your next view of the water will be via a picturesque seascape on the left that allows you to pull in, pull over, or turn around. Whichever you select, you’re sure to enjoy the view.

 

In due course, you will come to a rotary at the top of the hill. When you do, you will need to go through the rotary and take the first right in order to set about the short driveway to the parking lot beneath Enfield Tower. But look fast; almost as soon as you commence your ascent from the rotary, you can look to the right and up the hill to catch your first foretaste of the tower in its gallantly unassailable view over the Quabbin Reservoir. Once upon the inner recesses of its top tier, you will be able to see out of its Air Traffic Control Tower-like windows all the way from Mt. Monadnock in New Hampshire to Connecticut on a clear day.

 

Beneath the knoll to Enfield Tower is a sizeable plateau used for parking, and the driveway loops around the parking field along the ridge. However, you can park virtually anyplace except the length of the driveway to the tower itself; once again, prohibited except to DCR personnel vehicles. This open field/parking lot leaves copious room for vehicles to drive around the loop or park, while observing a comfortable yet proverbial bulwark between playing children and traffic. There are also a small number of footpaths available to the grown trailblazer in the Southeast corner.

 

The walk up the hill to the tower is indeed not for the indolent, however it’s effortlessly consummate by any person capable of walking by themselves. My kids, at the time ages 9, 4, and 3, were able to walk it, and I was able to push my 1 year-old in the stroller with no complications or real challenges.

 

Once at the pinnacle, I quickly understood why so many people get married there. The view from the ground alone was extraordinary. From that position, in front of the tower, you could see water below and mountains peeking through the vapor in the far west. The grounds are very well maintained and groomed. The vegetation is left to grow, uninhibited by man’s presence or persistent visitation.

 

Subsequent to climbing several flights of stairs, I made it to the crown of the tower and was able to look out and see much more illustrious views out of the large windows.

 

To the west is Belchertown, and to the north is Prescott Peninsula, now a part of New Salem. This view, which is almost all-inclusive of the Quabbin, should inspire at least a fleeting prologue of its history and purpose.

 

Now let’s back up to that fork in the road. After departing Enfield Tower and going back through the rotary and back down the hill to that parking area on the right as you come in on the entry road, I parked the car and then ventured back in the direction of the left fork in the road, but this time on foot.

 

To my children’s as well as my own excitement, we saw a family of wild turkeys itinerant in the tree line along the road to the gate. Wild turkeys are not an atypical scene in certain parts of the Quabbin, nor is it unheard of to bear witness to bobcats, beavers, deer, bears, moose, loons, and an innumerable host of other indigenous wildlife. The first we saw, however, was wild turkey!

 

Immediately upon crossing past the gate to Winsor Dam was a bridge that passed over The Gorge. At the time, the water level was relatively low, but an inspiring sight nonetheless. Soon after, the well-groomed grounds of Enfield Tower as well as the “remarkable” view of The Gorge became pale compared to the humbling majesty of Winsor Dam!

 

 

Your first glimpse of this Quabbin Wonder will be in the form of an enormous, pitched hill which is mowed from left to right, in aggregate, horizontal tread from top to bottom. A path on the left side of the road leads down to the base of the hill which snakes around through the backside of Quabbin Park. As you continue along the road, to your front and where the road ells to the left, you will see a pillared monument dedicated to the Engineer who designed the dam (and after whom the dam is named). As it states, the dam is 2,640 feet long and 170 feet high.

 

 

The high road, which spans athwart the top of the dam, begins by mirroring the snake-like course of the base path described a moment ago, but then straightens out across the overwhelming preponderance of the dam. On both sides are tremendous views; on the left –the sloping, grassy hill; on the right –the view of the water from its southern-most point.

 

 

As I trekked along, I encountered a Cedar Waxwing perched on the outcrop. Yet another wildlife encounter dissimilar to anything you might see in most other places.

 

I realize that birdwatchers and animal lovers will not see anything superficially exceptional with the wild turkeys and Cedar Waxwing, but understand that I am making known these sightings as a reference for perspective. We spent a sum of 2 or 3 hours in our first voyage to the Quabbin, and had seen 2 things that most of us had never seen before.

 

The Quabbin is an enchanting place. It lives up to its name as the Accidental Wilderness as well as the title of New England’s Best Kept Secret. Don’t consent to any of my diatribes filling your head with illusions of what the Quabbin is, because it’s something different to everyone, and each one sees every element of it in distinctive ways. Whether you are a lover of nature or not, an intrepid explorer or a couch potato, a hiker, a climber, a camper, fisherman, hunter, or computer geek, the Quabbin will leave a lasting impression for your entire life.

 

I would pioneer my life in the Quabbin with Gate 54A all over again. It’s a grand preliminary spot. The Visitor’s Center is in close proximity so you can get all the information the internet won’t provide and the view from Enfield Tower is genially teasing, as it allows you to see most of what there is to ascertain without being ensconced in its opulence. If nothing else, it’s a rousing venue to engage your senses and tempt a further, more intimate review of The Quabbin Reservoir in Central Massachusetts.

 

 

 

 

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