Land gift provides vital conservation, recreation link in hilltowns

People take part in a New Year’s Day hike at Briar Hill in Williamsburg.

People take part in a New Year’s Day hike at Briar Hill in Williamsburg. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/HILLTOWN LAND TRUST

This map shows the outlines of the 132-acre Clary Hill, donated recently to the Hilltown Land Trust.

This map shows the outlines of the 132-acre Clary Hill, donated recently to the Hilltown Land Trust. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/HILLTOWN LAND TRUST

An early fall view from Briar Hill and Clary Hill in Williamsburg.

An early fall view from Briar Hill and Clary Hill in Williamsburg. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/HILLTOWN LAND TRUST

A meadow of goldenrod at Clary Hill in Williamsburg.

A meadow of goldenrod at Clary Hill in Williamsburg. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/HILLTOWN LAND TRUST

Staff Report

Published: 01-23-2024 10:49 AM

Modified: 01-23-2024 1:56 PM


A recent donation of 132 acres to Hilltown Land Trust will link Williamsburg’s Briar Hill Conservation Area to the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) State Forest in Goshen, extending hiking trails and wildlife corridors, conservation officials announced recently.

Spread across the towns of Goshen, Conway and Williamsburg, the parcel known as Clary Hill will soon provide hikers with an uninterrupted 9-mile hike from Briar Hill Road to the Bullitt Reservation in Ashfield, and link up with the 19 miles of state forest trails to boot, according to Hilltown Land Trust.

The parcels adjoin the 50-acre Briar Hill area to the north and east.

On a New Year’s Day public hike at Briar Hill, 30 hikers climbed to the overlook on the boundary with the newly conserved Clary Hill parcel. After taking in views of nearby hills and the distant Holyoke Range, the group gathered to hear about the highlights of the proposed trail connection.

“I’ve been biking up Briar Hill Road for years, and have always been curious about neighboring Clary Hill,” said Williamsburg resident and avid hiker Charlotte Meryman. “I’m excited to be able to go in and see what’s up there.”

Although the largest portion of Clary Hill lies in Goshen, the Williamsburg Woodland Trails Committee plans to help create new trails. Over the coming years, Hilltown Land Trust will work with such trails committees and other partners to develop trails, steward wildlife habitat and care for the property.

“The opportunity to connect the Briar Hill Trail to Clary Hill, and potentially beyond to DAR State Forest, is all very exciting,” said Paul Jahnige, chair of the all-volunteer committee — and also director of the state’s Office of Outdoor Recreation. “With the views, old field and wetlands, it will expand and enhance the trail experience here.”

Hikers aren’t the only ones who will benefit from increased connectivity. Clary Hill links previously isolated conservation parcels to a large swath of conserved land, thus protecting habitat and travel corridors for wildlife.

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“Connecting large blocks of conserved lands is one of the key features we look for in conservation projects,” said Hilltown Land Trust Executive Director Sally Loomis. “This is a win for people in search of longer recreational adventures close to home, and for wildlife like moose, bobcats and bears who need larger areas to roam.”

Clary Hill is a bequest from the Sofinowski family to Hilltown Land Trust, which will have primary stewardship responsibility for the land.

The Trustees, a statewide conservation organization that manages areas such as Chesterfield Gorge and Chapel Brook Falls, will hold a conservation restriction on the land, offering additional permanent assurance that it will never be developed.

Meryman said she’s excited for the possibilities with the expansion of accessible wilderness.

“Only once in 30-plus years have I seen a moose around here,” Meryman said. “This might be a place near Williamsburg where I can actually see a moose.”