The Berkshires

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Berkshires
Berkshire Hills, Berkshire Mountains
Berkshires in Winter.jpg
Highest point
Peak Crum Hill
Elevation 2,841 ft (866 m)
Coordinates 42°42′40″N 73°01′11″W / 42.71111°N 73.01972°W / 42.71111; -73.01972
Dimensions
Length 98 mi (158 km) north-south
Geography
NortheastAppalachiansMap.jpg
Berkshires labeled as B
Country United States
States Massachusetts and Connecticut
Range coordinates 42°10′00″N 73°08′59″W / 42.1668°N 73.1496°W / 42.1668; -73.1496Coordinates: 42°10′00″N 73°08′59″W / 42.1668°N 73.1496°W / 42.1668; -73.1496
Type of rock metamorphic rock

The Berkshires (/ˈbɜrkʃərz/ or /ˈbɜrkʃɪərz/), is a highland geologic region located in the western parts of Massachusetts and Connecticut.1

Also referred to as the Berkshire Hills, Berkshire Mountains, and Berkshire Plateau, the region enjoys a vibrant tourism industry based on music, arts, and recreation.

Definition

The term "The Berkshires" has overlapping but non-identical political, cultural, and geographic definitions.

Political

Politically, Berkshire County, Massachusetts was a governing body formed in 1761; it includes the western extremity of the state, with its western boundary bordering New York and its eastern boundary roughly paralleling the watershed divide separating the Connecticut River watershed from the Housatonic River-Hoosic River watersheds. Geologically and physically, the Berkshires are the southern continuation of the Green Mountains of Vermont, distinct from them only by their average lower elevation and by virtue of what side of the border they fall on. In physical geography, the Berkshires extend from the Housatonic River and Hoosic River valleys in western Massachusetts, to the Connecticut River valley in north central Massachusetts, and to the foot of the lower Westfield River valley in south central Massachusetts. In Connecticut, where they are referred to as "the Litchfield Hills," they extend from the upper Houstatonic River valley in the north-west part of the state, south along the western border of the state, east to the Farmington River valley in north central Connecticut, south to the Quinnipiac River valley in central Connecticut, then south-west to the Housatonic River valley in southwest Connecticut.

Cultural

Culturally, the term "Berkshires" includes all of the highland region in western Massachusetts west of the Connecticut River and lower Westfield River, and (under the name "Litchfield Hills"), all of north-west Connecticut from the Farmington River valley in the northern part of the state in a diagonal arc west to Winsted and Litchfield, then southwest to Lake Candlewood on the New York border and ending in Ridgefield, Connecticut. The cultural region also includes the Taconic Mountains bordering New York, which are geologically distinct from the Berkshires orogeny. Southwest Vermont and the Taconic region of New York are occasionally grouped with the Berkshires cultural region.

Sir Francis Bernard, the Royal Governor (in office 1760-1769), named the area "Berkshire" to honor his home county in England.

Geographic

The Mount Greylock massif seen from the west in winter, with its glacial cirque known as 'The Hopper' directly below the summit.

Geologically, the Berkshires are bordered on the west by the Taconic Mountains, the marble valleys of the Hoosic River and Housatonic River and, further south, by the Hudson Highlands; to the east, they are bordered by the Metacomet Ridge geology. They are on the average 1,000 ft (300 m) lower and less prominent than the Green Mountains of Vermont, and form a broad, dissected plateau punctuated by hills and peaks and cut by river valleys. The Berkshires topography gradually diminishes in profile and elevation from west to east and from north to south, except where rivers have cut deep gorges and sharp bluff faces into the Berkshire plateau.

Formation

The Berkshires and related Green Mountains formed over half a billion years ago when Africa collided with North America, pushing up the Appalachian Mountains and forming the bedrock of the Berkshires. Erosion over hundreds of millions of years wore these mountains down to the hills that we see today.2

Elevation

The average regional elevation of the Berkshires ranges from about 700 to 1,200 feet (213 to 365 meters). The geologic high point is Crum Hill, 2,841 feet (866 m) of Monroe, Massachusetts; however, nearby Mount Greylock of the Taconic Mountains, 3,491 feet (1,064 m), the highest point in the state of Massachusetts, is considered the high point of the Berkshires cultural region.

Rivers

The Housatonic River, Hoosic River, Westfield River, and Deerfield River watersheds drain the Berkshires region in Massachusetts; in Connecticut the main river drainages are the Farmington River, the Naugatuck River, the Shepaug River, and the Housatonic River.

Counties

The Berkshire mountain range runs through:

Municipalities

The largest municipalities associated with the Berkshires cultural region include Pittsfield, North Adams, Adams, Great Barrington, Williamstown, Massachusetts; Granby, Connecticut; Torrington, Connecticut; and Winsted, Connecticut.

History

During the American Revolution a Continental Army force under Henry Knox brought captured cannons from Fort Ticonderoga by ox-drawn sleds south along the west bank of the Hudson River from the fort to Albany where he then crossed the Hudson. Knox and his men continued east through the Berkshires and finally arrived in Boston. This feat, known as the "Noble train of artillery", was accomplished in the dead of winter, 1775-1776.

Ecology

The Berkshires lie within the New England-Acadian forests ecoregion.3

Similarly, the United States Environmental Protection Agency in Massachusetts (Griffith et al. 1994) has defined six ecoregions within this area: Taconic Mountains, Western New England Marble Valleys, Lower Berkshire Hills, Berkshire Highlands, Vermont Piedmont, and Berkshire Transition. Each region is distinct from the others providing a unique habitat assemblage.

Much of the Hoosic and Housatonic River Valleys have underlying bedrock limestone and marble which contribute to calcareous wetlands, unique to Massachusetts. The alkaline pH waters support a diversity of plants and animals intolerant of more acidic waters, some which are state-listed rare or endangered. Combined with the rich mesic forests ranging from the northern hardwood to the taiga or sub-alpine, makes for a valuable, biologically diverse ecosystem.

The classic study of the vegetation of the Berkshire Highlands was Egler's 1940 monograph,4 covering the flora of an area stretching roughly from Pittsfield, MA in the west to Hatfield, MA in the east, and from Goshen, CT in the south, north to the Vermont border.

Today, efforts are being made on behalf of many organizations to preserve and manage this region for biological diversity and sustainable human development. Recreation directly related to this ecology is a popular area for trout fishing, and the area's relative pristineness contributes to the popularity of nature walks in the region. See also: Natural History of the Berkshires

Tourism

The Berkshires are a popular tourist attraction and vacation getaway, serving the same function in relation to Connecticut and Massachusetts that the Catskills do in New York and the Poconos for Pennsylvania. With numerous trails, including part of the Appalachian Trail, large tracts of wilderness, parks like Kent Falls, Berkshire Botanical Garden and Hebert Arboretum the Berkshires are very popular with nature lovers. The area includes Bash Bish Falls, the tallest waterfall in Massachusetts. It should be noted that most of the Appalachian Trail and Bash Bish Falls are physically located in the nearby Taconic mountain range. The Berkshires are also home to dozens of summer camps, some of which date back to the turn of the 20th century.

The Litchfield Hills of Northwestern Connecticut feature the covered bridges of Kent and West Cornwall, fly fishing, canoeing and spectacular fall foliage along the Housatonic River valley and the quiet woods and hills of the Appalachian trail and also Algonquin State Forest in Colebrook.

The Berkshire region is noted as a center for the visual and performing arts; its art museums include the Norman Rockwell Museum, the Clark Art Institute, the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (Mass MoCA), and the Williams College Museum of Art (WCMA). At Williams College, the Chapin Library displays a wide selection of rare books and documents. Performing-arts institutions in the Berkshires include Tanglewood Music Center and Boston University Tanglewood Institute [1] in Lenox, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Berkshire Choral Festival, the Bang on a Can Summer Festival for contemporary music in North Adams; Shakespeare & Company in Lenox; summer stock theatre festivals such as the Williamstown Theatre Festival in Williamstown, Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield, MA and the Berkshire Theatre Festival in Stockbridge; and America's first and longest-running dance festival, Jacob's Pillow.

See also

References

  1. ^ "Berkshire Hills". Geographic Names Information System, U.S. Geological Survey. Retrieved 2009-05-03. 
  2. ^ Raymo, Chet and Maureen E. Written in Stone: A Geologic History of the Northeastern United States. Globe Pequot, Chester, Connecticut, 1989.
  3. ^ Olson, D. M, E. Dinerstein, et al (2001). "Terrestrial Ecoregions of the World: A New Map of Life on Earth". BioScience 51 (11): 933–938. doi:10.1641/0006-3568(2001)051[0933:TEOTWA]2.0.CO;2. 
  4. ^ Egler, F. E. 1940. Berkshire plateau vegetation, Massachusetts. Ecological Monographs 10:147-192.

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