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Marble Cliffs, Open Fields and River Walks

Visiting Bartholomew’s Cobble


By Susannah Wood

The preserve hosts a wide variety of wildflowers.

Less than half an hour away from Norfolk is a little gem of a place where walking ferns trail their way down marble outcrops, a miniature grove of white trillium marks a recent burn, and neo-tropical migrants fly in to rest along the banks of the Housatonic. Bartholomew’s Cobble in Ashley Falls sits right on a bend of the river, its name a good fit for the knobby rocks that make up the core of the preserve. Cobble, a term for a rocky hillock, apparently comes from an old German word kobel, meaning rock. The name Bartholomew references one of the owners of the land in the 19th century.

Bartholomew’s Cobble is a miniature botanical Eden, home to 800 species of plants, including a spectacular diversity of ferns. Such largesse is largely due to its geologic history. About 500 million years ago, the rocks began as ocean sediments along a continental shelf. Through the rough-and-tumble of tectonic action, these deposits were subjected to extraordinary heat and pressure. Calcium-rich material derived from corals and other sea creatures eventually became marble, while sandy layers became quartzite. These layers were upended and then exposed over the ensuing millennia by glacial scouring and erosion. On some outcrops, calcium-loving plants and others associated with acid soils grow only inches apart.

Hurlburt Hill looks north toward the Berkshires.

The marble cliffs and outcrops close to headquarters have communities of unusual (for our area) fern species such as purple-stemmed cliffbrake, wall-rue, blunt-lobed woodsia, rock spikemoss, and maidenhair spleenwort. Along the Ledges Trail, colonies of round-leaved hepatica bloom in spring along with miterwort, blue cohosh, and red columbine. Some 240 bird species have been recorded.

Many different habitats exist side by side on the preserve, from floodplain forest to dry upland woods to the open fields of Hurlburt’s Hill, rising a thousand feet to a vista. These hay fields provide nesting habitat for bobolinks. The view from the top looks north up the Housatonic Valley, sweeping a wide arc from Mt. Everett in the west to the Berkshire Highlands in the east.

Owned by the Trustees of Reservations, Bartholomew’s Cobble offers many programs, from wildflower and bird walks in late April and early May, to moonlight hikes and canoe rentals throughout the summer for exploring the Housatonic River, and hawk watching in the fall. There are about five miles of hiking trails. The preserve is open sunrise to sunset. For more information call 413-298-3239, ext. 3013. Leave time to visit the 18th-century Ashley House nearby.

The open fields draw many bobolinks to nest there.

Photos by Savage Frieze.

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