By Elizabeth Farnsworth Gazette Contributing Writer
When I tell people I live in Royalston, they tend to stare blankly. “Boylston?” they say. Or, “Where’s that, New Hampshire?” And I smile to myself that my town of 1,200 people in north-central Massachusetts is still one of the best- kept secrets in the Commonwealth. But among its many charms, Royalston has three treasures that shouldn’t be hush-hush: the Doane’s, Royalston and Spirit waterfalls.
In fact, the town is not that far afield for Pioneer Valley residents; it’s just an hour’s drive from Amherst or Northampton. What’s more, you can visit these superb cascades all in one ambitious day: The Tully Trail—a 21-mile offshoot of the New England National Scenic Trail—connects all three.
Drive into Royalston from the south on Athol Road, and you will hear Doane’s Falls before you see it. The falls of Lawrence Brook cross under the road beneath a striking stone bridge. The first cascade is just a few steps through thick hemlock forest all the way to Tully Lake. These powerful falls once fueled a series of ill-fated mills that manufactured a motley variety of goods under several generations of owners. Now all that remains are one mill wheel and the falls themselves, which turn ferocious after even modest rains.
Royalston Falls (off Route 32 in North Royalston) are less voluminous, but their sheer 45-foot drop into a beautiful semicircular grotto makes them all the more dramatic. Spray kicked up by its plunging water often captures a rainbow, and dripping ferns and mosses lining the grotto remind visitors of a rainforest. (You would never guess that a bandstand and dining area once overlooked this remote spot.) Transform your hike into an overnight adventure by camping at the rustic, first-come-first-served cabin upstream of the falls, and the next day, walking north to Mount Monadnock or south to Spirit Falls.
Spirit Falls graces the east slope overlooking Long Pond; for me, this waterfall is the most “spiritual”of the three. In winter, the sheet of water tumbling calmly over rounded granitic rock freezes into fantastic stalactites full of gold and blue color and surrounding trees become ice-sculpted by the spray. In summer, I like to watch its smooth water braid itself over the hillside. You can reach these falls from the Tully Trail at the base, or hike in from the parking area on Route 68 from the summit. For more information on the falls of Royalston, visit the Trustees of Reservations Web site, www.trustees.org.
The Pioneer Valley, too, boasts many fine waterfalls with a variety of personalities. The graceful falls of Roaring Brook, near a former ashram in Leverett, inspire meditation. Park in the lot off Route 63 and follow the trail for Mount Toby. Buffam Falls—off North Valley Road in Pelham—spill over gently tilted rock slabs; their burbling waters invite the streamside visitor to take a snooze. The Westfield River flume that slices through Chesterfield Gorge is so powerful it erased its own history; its 1835 flood swept away the bridge that carried defeated British troops in retreat to Boston from the 1777 Battle of Saratoga. And during its furious spring freshet, the Connecticut River stampedes—brown and roiling—over the Turners and Holyoke dams, structures originally built to take advantage of the natural hydropower.
Shelburne Falls, Chapel Brook (Ashfield), Glendale Falls (Middlefield)—all of these are also within easy reach. (For directions to falls mentioned in this column—and many more—go to www.massfalls.com.) Whether they stir you with their might or lull you with their serenity, every one is worth a visit.
Elizabeth Farnsworth is Senior Research Ecologist at the New England Wild Flower Society and co- author of the Peterson Field Guide to the Ferns.
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