4 Outdoor Adventures for Exploring Geology and Local History

Community-Based Resources to Support an Interest in Geology & Local History

Digging deep into local history can reveal opportunities for community-based learning about geology and early Hilltown industries. Western Massachusetts is home to some incredible gems like mineral dig sites, abandoned quarries, and former mines, studies and explorations of which can lead to valuable learning about the area’s history – both local and natural.

Western Massachusetts was once filled with numerous mining and quarry operations, and studies of geology and local history overlap with explorations of former mine and quarry sites! We’ve highlighted four such gems that families can easily visit this summer. 

Natural Bridge State Park. North Adams.

In North Adams, Natural Bridge State Park is home to the only naturally formed marble arch and man-made marble dam in North America! The arch, made of 550 million year old bedrock marble, was created by glacial melt water over 13,000 years ago. Explorations along a very short trail (>1 mile) allow families to experience the former quarry site, run commercially from 1810 until 1947.

Becket Land Trust’s Historic Quarry Area

Another fascinating former quarry is part of a preserved land area in Becket, and can be easily explored on a self-guided historic walk. The Becket Land Trust’s Historic Quarry Area is home not only to a former commercial quarry, but many signs of the activity that once filled the space. Visitors can see equipment and structures leftover from operation, which took place for a century beginning in the 1860’s. Granite from the Chester-Hudson Quarry was used for many things, including monuments in many states!

Chester Emery Mines

Geocaching enthusiasts will enjoy exploring the Chester emery mines, where a geocache can be found among the former sites of six different mines. Operated commercially from the mid-1800’s until the end of World War II, the Chester emery mines were used to extract over 30 different minerals from veins of emery and magnetite. The geocache nearby includes samples of margarite, one of the most desirable minerals to be found in the mines – be sure to find it in order to see the mineral for yourself!

Want to collect minerals? Hilltown Families reader, Andrew Brodeur, notes that visitors require a permit from the Div. of Fisheries and Wildlife to do so and to be aware of mine shafts when exploring.  His recommendation is to explore with people who know the area for the safest experience.

Hartnett-Manhan Memorial Forest. Easthampton.

Finally, to further explore the history of mining and quarry operations in western Massachusetts and in order to (perhaps) find some mineral samples of your own, visit the Hartnett-Manhan Memorial Forest in Easthampton, where visitors can dig minerals in a designated area on the bank of the Manhan River. Located in an area known as Loudville (formerly the home of a major lead mine, where lead used to make musket balls for the Revolutionary War was found), the preserved forest area has deposits of galena and calcite, and very small bits of rare minerals can sometimes be found, too. After digging for minerals, take a dip in the river – the trail leads further into the woods to a sandy beach and a kid-friendly swim spot.

[Photo credit: (cc) anslatadams]


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