Bearsden Conservation Area ‘About as wild as it gets’ 

  • Paige Cabin, which had 140 night reservations last year from local and out-of-state visitors, is available free to the public from March 1 to December 15 depending on the weather. Athol Daily News/Kathy Chaisson

  • The kiosk for Bearsden Conservation Area at the beginning of the trail. Athol Daily News/Kathy Chaisson

  • Clear cutting near Duck Pond at Bearsden Conservation Area has introduced new bird species to the area. Athol Daily News/Kathy Chaisson

Staff Writer
Published: 8/13/2019 9:58:16 PM

ATHOL — Minutes away from the constant flow of Route 2A traffic between Athol and Orange are areas of peaceful stillness designated for residents and visitors to enjoy, on land preserved and protected by the Athol Conservation Commission. A short drive to any of these sites can become mini-escapes into nature that make it easy to forget the stresses of the day, even if for just a couple of hours.

“People have no idea it’s Athol land,” said conservation agent Dave Small during a recent tour of the Bearsden Conservation Area off Bearsden Road, one of the several town-owned properties managed by the ACC. Navigating the alternating rugged and grassy terrain in his pickup truck, Small kept a sharp eye out for any changes to the landscape, stopping to observe winged wildlife along the way. Spotted was a dragonfly, a cedar waxwing, and a Viceroy butterfly which lingered long enough for Small to take a picture, something he joked he does often to the annoyance of his passengers.

Small, who recently added signage that no off-road vehicles are allowed, said the conservation area encompasses nearly 2,000 acres of forest and wetland with a “whole series of trails that are interconnected.” He credits members of the Conservation Commission and other locals in the 1960s who, as part of the spirit of the time, were instrumental in taking steps to preserve the Bearsden area. At about the same time the Millers River Watershed Council was created.

According to The Nature Conservancy, Bearsden Woods is part of the top one percent of interior forests in Massachusetts, meaning they don’t have major roads and there are no river crossings. “It’s about as wild as it gets,” Small said.

A few years ago, the Conservation Commission, with a grant from the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife as part of the State Wildlife Action to intervene with declining species populations, did some clear cutting of the forest in one section near Duck Pond to create a successional habitat for indigo buntings. Within two years the bird species arrived and began utilizing the area. The new growth of the forest has also changed the species composition of birds. Prairie warblers and common yellowthroats have been documented. “It’s a habitat not common in Massachusetts anymore,” Small said.

Athol history figures in the property on several occasions. A pathway cut between two large rock formations in an area called “Deep Cut” was originally made for a pipeline that brought the water from Newton Reservoir back to Athol in the late 1800s.

Duck Pond, known as an “oxbow” lake, because of its shape, was once part of the Millers River and over time moved westward. It is currently separated by railroad tracks that were built on the bridge of land that separated the river. A sign for “Old Red Bridge” indicates where the old Bearsden Road, now overgrown, would cross the Millers River to connect to Gulf Road.

Overnight camping is allowed by permit at Paige Cabin near the gated entrance to the trail where people can “comfortably rough it,” Small said. The cabin is available for general use from March 1 to Dec. 15, weather permitting. A trail shelter overlooks the pond and can sleep five or six people. A wood outhouse and a large rock that can be used as a fireplace are nearby.

The Athol Conservation Commission also manages the Newton Reservoir Conservation Area, the Minnie French Conservation Area, the Von Dy Rowe ½ Acre Conservation Area, Cass Meadow North, Cass Meadow South, the Charles Comstock Conservation Area, and the South Athol Conservation Area.

For more information about these sites, visit

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