In 1891, Boston landscape architect Charles Eliot received the go-ahead from the Legislature to establish The Trustees of Reservations “for the purposes of acquiring, holding, maintaining and opening to the public . . . beautiful and historic places . . . within the Commonwealth.” Today, the nonprofit conservation organization maintains 112 sites in Massachusetts and has a yearly membership of more than 100,000 people. Crane Beach and Naumkeag, the recently renovated Stockbridge estate, are two of the crown jewels in the Trustees’ collection. Others, like these eight locales, are less heralded, but just as worthy of a visit.
LONG HILL, BEVERLY As editor and publisher of the Atlantic Monthly, Ellery Sedgwick worked with some of the finest writers of his time, including Ernest Hemingway and Robert Frost. Yet, it’s his marriages to not one but two accomplished gardeners and horticulturists that has had a more lasting effect. In 1916, Sedgwick moved with his first wife, Mabel, to a 114-acre hillside property on the North Shore. The house sits atop a drumlin staring out at forest, but it’s the wonderful gardens at Long Hill that will capture your attention. No matter the season, there will be something in bloom, from blue forget-me-nots to exotic Chinese redbuds to the soft yellow and very rare Molly the Witch peonies. The assemblage of trees is also intriguing, from the tall dawn redwood planted by Sedgwick’s second wife, Marjorie, to the signature copper beech in front of the house nearing a century old.
WESTPORT TOWN FARM, WESTPORT
Heading out here on a bucolic stretch of road, you’ll no doubt pass kayakers and stand-up paddleboarders cruising down the Westport River. The 1824 wooden clapboard house at Westport Town Farm is a welcome introduction to this pastoral property on a hill overlooking the river. Still a working farm, the Trustees donate produce to area hunger relief agencies and hold a Farmers’ Market on Saturdays in summer. Take the grassy trail past the barnyard onto pasture that slopes down to the water’s edge. You’ll be accompanied by birdsong.
MYTOI AND CAPE POGE WILDLIFEREFUGE, MARTHA’S VINEYARD
Beach lovers headed to East Beach on Chappaquiddick have to pass the Japanese-style garden called Mytoi. Azaleas, daffodils, dogwoods, and rhododendrons line the fresh water creeks. The dirt road eventually crosses a bridge, stopping at East Beach. Walk the beach to see one of the most pristine stretches of coastline on the Atlantic. Part of the Cape Poge Wildlife Refuge, this barrier beach is the best place to bird-watch on the Vineyard. Ospreys, oystercatchers, piping plovers, terns, and the occasional bald eagle nest here. To get a close-up look at the birds, sign up for the guided kayak tour with the Trustees.
TULLY LAKE CAMPGROUND,ROYALSTON
Come to this tranquil lake where there is little or no motorized boat traffic and tents-only campsites and you’ll understand why campers return year after year. Many bring their own kayaks to paddle to the sandy isles and on sinuous Tully River. The Trustees offers kayak rentals and stand-up paddleboarding lessons on Sundays in season. Hiking trails lead to scenic Doane’s Falls, where Lawrence Brook tumbles over a series of ledges before it reaches Tully Lake. Ranger Sara leads paddlers to see beavers and Ranger Keith teaches kids how to fish. You may want to bring your mountain bike, since there’s a 7-mile loop around Long Pond.
CHESTERFIELD GORGE, CHESTERFIELD
The sound of rushing water welcomes you to Chesterfield Gorge. Here, the East Branch of the Westfield River drops dramatically through rock walls that are close to 70 feet high. Below the gorge, fly fishermen are usually seen casting their lines into the riffles in hopes of hooking a trout. Take deep breaths of sweet pine as you walk through the thick forest on the East Branch Trail. This 7-mile long dirt road is open to both hikers and mountain bikers who can ride through neighboring Gilbert Bliss State Forest.
WILLIAM CULLEN BRYANTHOMESTEAD, CUMMINGTON
Stroll under the ancient-looking sugar maples and hemlocks Bryant’s family planted 200 years ago, when the great poet (1794-1878) was just a boy, and you’ll reach a rivulet. The Trustees posted Bryant’s entire poem “The Rivulet” (1823) next to the stream. “The same sweet sounds are in my ear, my early childhood loved to hear,” wrote Bryant. Long after his family had sold the land and moved to Illinois to farm, the poet and abolitionist would buy the land back in 1865, the same year his good friend Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. Bryant, as he documents so well in his poetry, always preferred country life to city life and he would spend all of his summers here until his death. Look out at the meadows, forest, and Berkshire foothills and you realize little has changed, thanks to conservation efforts. It’s still a slice of sylvan heaven, one that’s best observed with a picnic lunch made by the Old Creamery, just down the road.
THE GUEST HOUSE AT FIELD FARM,WILLIAMSTOWN
From outside, it’s nondescript, if not downright ugly. Then you enter the Bauhaus-era home, now a 5-bedroom inn run by the Trustees, and you understand the brilliance of American modernism. All those rectilinear lines created the perfect opportunity to place large glass windows around the exterior and take in the stunning views of Mount Greylock. Walking into the living room is like walking into a postmodern early ’60s museum set where Don Draper is your host. Unlike the architecture, all of the furniture seems to have curves, from the Isamu Noguchi glass coffee table to the swan-backed couch by Vladimir Kagan. For visitors hoping to take in the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, which reopened July 4 after a major renovation, there’s no better setting.
BARTHOLOMEW’S COBBLE, SHEFFIELD
At the southernmost point of the Berkshires, near the Connecticut border, you’ll find Bartholomew’s Cobble. Walking on the Ledges Trail, the Housatonic River snakes through dairy farms on the left while eroding limestone and quartzite rocks to your right. Take a slight detour at Corbin’s Neck to get a closer view of the river and the cows resting on its banks. Then continue on the Tulip Tree Trail uphill through a forest of tall hemlocks before reaching a clearing. At a short summit, take advantage of the bench to sit and take in the views of Mount Everett and Mount Race, part of the Appalachian Trail.Stephen Jermanok can be reached at www.activetravels.com.