New England National Scenic Trail Partners with Hitchcock Center to Support Geology Fieldtrips

By Helen Ann Sephton

On the mountain, kids make music. Rock music. It’s a natural introduction to the geology of the Holyoke Range and its trails – the sound rock fragments make when struck or scuffed. It’s a minor note, but a memorable auditory experience as students begin to learn about the properties and geology in local formations.

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This fall Hitchcock Center received a generous grant from The New England National Scenic Trail (NET) to provide local Geology field trips for middle school students in Amherst, Pelham, South Hadley, and West Springfield. This funding allows Hitchcock’s educators to lead 29 Mountains and Valleys field trips in September and October for over 650 students at Skinner State Park in Hadley.

The New England National Scenic Trail (NET) is a 215-mile hiking trail route that has been in existence for over half a century. The NET travels through 41 communities in Connecticut and Massachusetts, and is comprised primarily of the historic Mattabesett, Metacomet, and Monadnock (M-M-M) Trail systems.

NET has provided this field trip funding in order to give young people the opportunity to hike on a part of the Metacomet-Monadnock Trail, and to encourage the use of this wonderful resource.

These trips provide an opportunity for geology to come alive as students learn to read the land and think like a geologist. There are many stories in the stones around us, from ancient volcanoes to earthquakes to evidence of glaciers one mile thick! Students are encouraged to make connections between the earth sciences they study in school and the real world – their own backyard!

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The trip takes students along a section of the Metacomet-Monadnock Trail to the summit of Mount Holyoke. For many, this is their first hiking experience, and their first time climbing a mountain. When we arrive at the summit and the Pioneer Valley stretches out below, there is that moment when a large group of people just pause – to rest and to take in the amazing view. There is a sense of excitement and accomplishment to top off the adventure of the climb itself. As we continue to the Summit House to eat lunch, students talk about coming back to do more hiking with their families.

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The NET travels through classic New England landscape features: long-distance vistas with rural towns as a backdrop, agrarian lands, un-fragmented forests, and large river valleys. It meanders past colonial historical landmarks and highlights a range of diverse ecosystems and natural resources: mountain ridges and summits, forested glades, wetlands and vernal pools, lakes, streams and waterfalls.

Many thanks to The New England Trail for making this happen!

Helen Ann Sephton is an Environmental Educator and School Programs Coordinator at the Hitchcock Center. She plans, coordinates and implements the Hitchcock Center’s K–12 School Programs including field trips, classroom presentations, residencies, and professional development for teachers. 

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