Division of State Parks and Recreation History
This outdoor heritage is one of the principal components of tourism, the second largest industry in Massachusetts. It is also one of the main factors influencing businesses to locate in the Commonwealth, bringing economic strength and stability. It is important to preserve and enhance this legacy, both to benefit current residents and to ensure that future generations can also enjoy the resources and can continue to benefit economically from their use.
The attractiveness of these features creates a problem as well as an opportunity. Because people want to be near the water or in the forest or on the beach, these resources begin to disappear as houses and roads are constructed. This development is charming on a small scale, as the many picturesque villages of New England illustrate. However, when it runs out of control, it destroys the very character that attracted growth and development in the first place.
The development of land in the Commonwealth must be carefully balanced with the preservation of its unique character. The importance of preserving open space, or undeveloped land, must be weighed along with the need of cities and towns to strengthen their economic position by encouraging business and residential growth. It must be a matter of determining where to develop and where to preserve, rather than choosing between development and conservation.
Massachusetts has a long tradition of balancing land use with land conservation. Between 1630 and 1640, the Massachusetts Bay Colony passed several ordinances which ensured continued public access to the tidelands and to great ponds for hunting, fishing and navigating. Thus the importance of certain land areas and waterways to the well-being of the general public was recognized long before there was a threat of heavy population.
Over the next 200 years, the forests of New England were gradually cleared for agricultural production as the population grew. Two rather unrelated events may have prevented these forests from being cut down entirely. In 1849, the discovery of gold in California drew thousands of families away from New England and ten years later the Civil War drew nearly every able-bodied farmer into the Army. Many of those who survived the war decided to begin a new life in more fertile regions and never returned to their stony New England fields.
This wholesale abandonment of farming resulted in the growth of new forests, mostly Eastern white pine and American chestnut, on some one million acres in Massachusetts. At the same time, the expansion of many industries relying on forest products created a tremendous increase in the amount of timber needed for building and manufacturing throughout the nation.
By the 1890's, the health and existence of Massachusetts' forests was threatened. "Cut and run" logging practices were destroying thousands of acres of land. For example, loggers had stripped the trees off the east face of Mt. Greylock and had plans to cut the north face. In addition to damaging the appearance of the state's highest peak, this caused serious erosion and land slides.
The forests were also threatened by fires, ignited largely by the sparks of locomotives_ on the flourishing railroad system, and serious infestations of gypsy moths and chestnut blight.
At that time the state had no power to buy and administer public lands. Charles W. Eliot, landscape architect and son of the former president of Harvard University, saw the tremendous need to preserve and manage land through public ownership. Due to his efforts, the Legislature created the Trustees of Public Reservations (now the Trustees of Reservations) in 1891 and the Metropolitan Parks District (now Metropolitan District Commission) in 1892.
In 1898, the Legislature authorized the creation of the Mt. Greylock State Reservation and the first public land for the purpose of forest preservation were acquired. Started with a gift of 400 acres, by 1900 the reservation had doubled in size.
As more and more land was devastated by unprincipled logging, fire and blight, the Massachusetts Legislature enacted the Reforestation Act of 1908. Owners of woodlands could deed their land to the Commonwealth for 10 years. The forest was replanted during that time and the owner could then reclaim the land for the price of reforestation. If not reclaimed, the state kept the land. By 1928, Massachusetts acquired more land than it could then efficiently administer and it abandoned the program.
In 1914, the Legislature appropriated $90,000 to acquire wastelands for reforestation, provided not more than $5.00 per acre be spent. By 1930, 115,000 acres of wasted and burned land had been bought and replanted with seedlings from state nurseries. This program, with the long-term objective of sustained yield of marketable timber, resulted in the sale of 6 million board feet for $100,000 between 1940 and 1954.
This early period of public land conservation had as its primary goals timber production, water conservation and the restoration of wildlife. Recreation was confined to small areas and general public access was limited because there were not enough state foresters to manage these extensive lands and provide safe public facilities.
By 1918, the conservation ethic was so thoroughly ingrained in the mind of the public that when a major revision of the State Constitution was proposed, it included an unequivocal call for resource protection. Article 49 states:
The conservation, development and utilization of the agricultural, mineral, forest, water and other natural resources of the Commonwealth are public uses...
The Twenties brought a period of unparalleled economic growth and land development. The unrestrained nature of this development prompted the Governor to appoint a special commission to study the needs and uses of open spaces. Under the leadership of Charles Eliot, the nephew of Charles W. Eliot, this commission drew up an Open Space Plan for the Commonwealth which warned that rapid, unplanned urban and suburban expansion would cause the destruction of the forests, fields, rivers and lakes that gave Massachusetts its special character.
The main purpose of the Commission was to preserve beautiful and historic places in a time of economic expansion. At the time of this planning, the major task was to convince the people of the need to preserve the scenic character of the Commonwealth when as yet there was little to illustrate the coming crisis.
The Commission developed a plan that would accommodate growth and development while also preserving significant tracts of land. This plan called for the acquisition of large land areas throughout the state as well as a major greenbelt around the Boston Metropolitan area, the Bay Circuit. This plan was refined in 1933 by the Trustees of Public Reservations, who specified individual parcels of land, whereas the Eliot plan had only generally delineated areas of concern.
A turning point for Massachusetts state forests came in 1933, when in response to the severe unemployment of the Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the Civilian Conservation Corps(CCC) providing for forest improvement and natural resource development by men and boys and paid $1.00 per day. From 1933-1942 the CCC in Massachusetts employed a total of 100,000 in about 68 camps, and worked on what had then expanded to 170,000 acres of state forest land. CCC forestry work and recreational development in the state forests and parks allowed for broader public use and other economic benefits that we still enjoy the fruits of, today.
Since that time, the Trustees and the Department of Environmental Management, as well as other agencies and organizations, have acquired many of the parcels mentioned in the Trustees’ 1933 plan and have set them aside for public use. The Massachusetts State Forests and Parks system now encompasses more than 285,000 acres.
NOTE: In April, 1998, the Harvard Forest Press published a hard cover history of the forests of Massachusetts in commemoration of the Centennial Celebration of the Massachusetts State Forests and Parks System. The volume, written by a variety of authors, is edited by Charles H.W. Foster. It includes a chapter on the history of the Massachusetts state forestry programs, as well as forest ecology, economics and the Commonwealth’s contribution to the national forest conservation movement and other topics.
MT. GREYLOCK STATE RESERVATION
It all began on June 20, 1898, when the legislature approved the establishment of Greylock State Reservation as the first land acquired by the state for the purpose of forest preservation.
Mt. Greylock, at 3,491 feet is the state's tallest peak with the only sub-alpine environment in Massachusetts. It has drawn nature lovers, scientific observers and outdoor recreation enthusiasts to its slopes for centuries. It has also inspired some of the greatest American writers and artists, among them Henry David Thoreau, Herman Melville, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edith Wharton, William Cullen Bryant and Thomas Cole. Long before European settlers set eyes on it, Native Americans of the Mahican Tribe traveled through the valley beside and hunted around the slopes of the mountain.
In 1739 as the settlement of the Massachusetts Bay Colony pushed further west, a survey party including Ephraim Williams Sr. created two townships at the foot of "Grand Hoosuc." By the mid-1700s, after the resolution of ongoing territorial conflicts with France, English settlers began to move into this wild northeast part of the colony. By 1800 open farmland extended from the valleys up onto the rugged mountain slopes
But during the 19th century, rapid and unregulated industrial development targeted the mountain's natural resources: the forests. Logging and charcoal-making operations stripped the mountain of mature timber, cutting new roads, destroying the mountain's character and leaving its slopes barren. A disastrous fire and a number of landslides in the 1880s heightened awareness of Mt. Greylock's uncertain future and inspired local citizens to action.
Determined to save Mt. Greylock, a group of Berkshire County businessmen formed and incorporated the Greylock Park Association (GPA) in 1885 and purchased 400 acres at the summit and ridge. With 42 shareholders and an 11-member Board of Directors, the Association was one of the first private land conservation organizations in Massachusetts.
Focused on protecting the summit from further encroachment through recreational use, the GPA built a new road from the Notch to the summit. In 1889 a new iron summit tower replaced the second of two wooden structures built in 1831 and 1840 by Williams College faculty and students for scientific observation. Tolls and admission fees for the road and the tower financed the Association's efforts, but the costs of maintaining the facility surpassed their means. Without funding, the Association turned to the Commonwealth for assistance.
In the winter of 1897-98, a petition was brought before the Massachusetts Legislature for the purchase of Greylock as a State Reservation. Environmental organizations which lobbied hard for passage of the legislation included the Massachusetts Forest Association (now the Environmental League of Massachusetts), the Trustees of Reservations and the Appalachian Mountain Club. After two hearings, on June 20, 1898 the Legislature passed a law (Chapter 543 of the Acts of 1898) creating the Greylock State Reservation and appropriating $25,000 for the purchase of additional acreage.
Initially, whereas the state provided the funds for land acquisition to the reservation, Berkshire County government was required to fund the management and operating expenses of the reservation. This was facilitated through a three person, governor-appointed board, the Greylock Reservation Commissioners, whose primary concern was conservation. In June 1898, Prof. John Bascom, Francis W. Rockwell and Alfred B. Mole were appointed the first commissioners; William H. Sperry eventually replaced Alfred B. Mole. Additional land purchases by the state and later improvements through the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) between 1933-41 transformed the reservation into a successful and very popular recreational facility.
Today, Mt. Greylock State Reservation encompasses more than 12,500 acres of mountain, forest, valleys and streams spread across six different towns in northwestern Berkshire County (North Adams, Adams, Cheshire, Lanesborough, Williamstown and New Ashford). It features a unique collection of CCC-era buildings as well as the Veterans War Memorial Tower, a glowing beacon on the northern Berkshire horizon. A portion of the Appalachian Trail, a 2100 mile footpath running from Maine to Georgia, crosses the summit. The once popular Thunderbolt Ski Trail, site of the U.S. Eastern Amateur Ski Association Championships in 1938 and 1940, is now a well-used hiking trail.
On June 20, 1998 a centennial celebration ceremony honored the 100th year anniversary the creation of the State Reservation and the State Forest and Park system. The summit was formally rededicated highlighting the restoration of the War Memorial Tower, renovation work on the summit's historical structures, new landscaping and site improvements, interpretive signs and most significantly, based on its distinctive cultural and recreation history, designation to the National Register of Historic Places as the Mount Greylock Summit Historic District.
Now entering its second century of land stewardship, the Commonwealth, through the Department of Conservation and Recreation is committed to preserving the vision of John Bascom, who in 1906 dedicated the mountain, "...Greylock, our daily pleasure, our constant symbol, our ever renewed inspiration, for all who have fellowship with Nature."
Mount Greylock State Reservation was the first forest preserve in the system of Massachusetts State Parks and Recreation Division which now encompasses more than 285,000 acres--one in every 17 acres of the Commonwealth.
Division of State Parks