In 2009, the town of Gill purchased a 163-acre forest in town. Interested community members had big ideas to turn the forest into a place for the entire community to enjoy. Finally, in 2016 with help from a DCR Stewardship grant, the town forest committee and the conservation commission mobilized funds and volunteers to build trails, create educational materials, and mark the boundaries of the forest. Now, when visitors arrive to the entrance to they see a kiosk with maps of the forest, brochures, photos, and art. The kiosk exemplifies the community support of and involvement in the forest. The kiosk itself was made by students at Turners Falls High School, and the mural that frames the map of the forest was created by a 10th grade student. A student at Antioch University created the trail map and a brochure, which contains not only the map but also descriptions of each trail with explanations about some of the unique features of the forest. Students at Turners Falls High School also created the thirty-plus routered cedar signs that label the trails.
The Blake Town Forest supports a wide variety of plant and wildlife species living in many different ecosystems. Trails that begin at the kiosk lead to Otter Pond, a glacial kettle pond that hosts an active beaver population, two species of water lily, and many species of birds. It is not uncommon to see otter, beaver, Great Blue Herons or Red-tailed Hawks if you take a morning walk around Otter Pond. In the winter, Otter Pond is a good place to go ice fishing. Across the street from the kiosk is another section of the forest which has trails through a field and along the Fall River, a popular destination for fishing. The trails on the town forest make the Fall River accessible to community members who can’t access it from their own properties, which is another great benefit of the forest. With fields, hills, forests, a pond and streams, the Blake town forest is ripe with opportunities to watch wildlife and walk through different ecosystems.
The new system of marked trails of varying length and difficulty, along with the new educational materials, has helped promote renewed appreciation and awareness of the forest which has long been a valuable recreational asset to the community. For the town’s 225th anniversary, the forest committee, including Amy Gordon, Ray Purington, Paul Sievert, and Ken Sprankle, hosted a walk to spread the word about the new trails, and the committee intends to plan similar ventures for the future. Trail maintenance and management of the forest are on-going concerns. A conservation restriction ensures that the forest will be protected in perpetuity, and it is sure to become a beloved place for residents of Gill and visitors alike.