Ashfield’s Bullitt Reservation open to all

  • The Bullitt Reservation in Ashfield sports views of rolling fields and woodlands. Recorder/Micky Bedell

    The Bullitt Reservation in Ashfield sports views of rolling fields and woodlands. Recorder/Micky Bedell Purchase photo reprints »

  • The renovated farmhouse on the Bullitt Reservation in Ashfield peaks through the trees, with a large community garden rolling out on the grass beside.Recorder/Micky Bedell

    The renovated farmhouse on the Bullitt Reservation in Ashfield peaks through the trees, with a large community garden rolling out on the grass beside.Recorder/Micky Bedell Purchase photo reprints »

  • The Bullitt Reservation in Ashfield sports views of rolling fields and woodlands. Recorder/Micky Bedell
  • The renovated farmhouse on the Bullitt Reservation in Ashfield peaks through the trees, with a large community garden rolling out on the grass beside.Recorder/Micky Bedell

ASHFIELD — Don’t stay off the grass and feel free to pick the flowers, or the tomatoes: the Bullitt Reservation is anyone’s backyard.

Formerly part of a U.S. ambassador’s summer retreat from international politics, Bullitt Reservation covers 262 acres on the Conway border, hidden from sight up a narrow, rutted dirt road banked with trees, ferns and moss.

Despite the air of seclusion the property is open to the public, free, all the time.

On Sunday afternoon, five people sat around a picnic table strewn with glass jars of seeds, knives and vegetables, under the shade of a maple tree; two speakers and three gardeners gathered for the monthly summer gardening series.

Property curator Emmet Van Driesche of Ashfield said turnout is usually higher and suspected the morning’s rain had dampened attendance for the three-hour workshop on plant propagation for home gardeners.

Then again, keeping count of visitors isn’t in Van Driesche’s job description; the renovated farm house, formerly home to the ambassador’s caretaker farmer, is open when it is open and the rest of the property is always open.

As the part-time caretaker and sole staffer, Van Driesche maintains the property and keeps the gardens — full of flowering plants and vegetables.

“The idea is it’s a garden where we’re not growing the vegetables for anyone in particular, it’s open to the public to come and pick flowers, harvest vegetables whenever they want,” Van Driesche said. “The idea is just to have it be a beautiful place for people to come have a picnic and hang out.”

The small gardens also provide a platform for the summer workshops, intended in part to spread the word about the property.

“I think for the first couple of years people in Ashfield didn’t even know about it,” Van Driesche said.

Ambassador William C. Bullitt’s daughter Ann donated the property to the Trustees of Reservations in 2009. The Trustees, Van Driesche said, is the oldest land conservation organization in the country, launched in Boston in 1897 by rich people protecting their backyards from urban sprawl. The focus shifted to saving land for public use. The Trustees own and protect Bullitt Reservation, Bear Swamp and land along Chapel Brook used by rock climbers and bathers.

The Bullitt and Chapel Falls properties are linked by a 2-mile walking and mountain bike trail, built two years ago.

“That has been the biggest thing that has opened the property up to people,” Van Driesche said.

The property address is on Bullitt Road, off Route 116. Address 332 Bullitt Road, by GPS, phone 413-628-4485, ext. 1 for information or for hunting permission.

You can reach Chris Curtis at: ccurtis@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 257

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