K. A. B. Trail
( Keystone Arch Bridges Trail)
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Outdoor Activities & Sports
The Keystone Arch Bridges Trail offers a moderate walk for all ages. Caution must be offered that there are some extreme drop-offs, and children and pets must be attended at all times. The trail proper measures 2.5 miles for a total round trip of five miles. This is somewhat misleading, in that there are a number of ancillary trails down to the river at each bridge which can, if followed, add considerable time and distance to your day.
Participants can get as much or as little of a workout as they desire. In general, it is recommended to allow at least five hours to complete the trip and absorb all the wonders present. Friends of the Keystone Arches offer guided hikes for groups of 10 to 25 individuals. A donation of five dollars each is requested and will be used for trail maintenance.
There is much history and hidden details the uninitiated could miss if unescorted.
Mountain Biking (cycling):
The K.A.B. Trail is also great for a day of serious mountain / off-road cycling for moderate to expert riders. Parts of the trail and ancillary trails stay wet throughout the summer months for added challenges with mud & water —not recommended for novice riders.
Primarily a spring sport, in 2003, enthusiasts were still paddling in August due to sustained heavy rains. Recommended for experts only, it contains class IV rapids, 50 foot and up to 100 feet per mile drops. It is the only uncontrolled branch of the Westfield River and as such may rise or fall suddenly. The remoteness of the area also makes assistance in the event of a mishap unlikely.
To reach the launching point in Bancroft, go north on Route 20 about 2.2 miles past Chester center to Wade Inn Rd., which angles off to the right up a steep hill. Follow Wade Inn Rd. about 3 miles to Bancroft Rd. on the right. Follow this until you arrive at the unmistakable keystone arch bridge which looms over both the road and the river.
If the rocks in the river are covered at Bancroft, expect a roller-coaster ride below. However, if they are somewhat bare, a fair amount of maneuvering will be called for in several spots. Most rapids are followed by pools. In several places the channel is quite narrow, so fallen trees could be a real hazard, especially at higher levels. A railroad follows the river, but there are no roads close by until the Middlefield Road approaches near the end, so the trip is somewhat isolated. The first 3.0 miles of the trip are definitely the most exciting; thereafter the rapids are more straightforward, although there is still a strong current. This trip is rated class III-IV depending on water level.
Hunting & Fishing:
The land on which sit the two tallest, now discontinued arches belongs to the Massachusetts Commonwealth Division of Fisheries & Wildlife. It is stocked each spring. The upper reaches and some of the tributaries are home to brown trout and small natives. Hikers are advised to be aware of the various hunting seasons and avoid shotgun deer season, from the first Monday after Thanksgiving for the following two weeks.
Note: In Massachusetts, hunting is not permitted on Sundays.
Winter on the Trail:
Don’t let old man winter keep you away from the Keystone Arch Bridges Trail. Conditions are especially beautiful in winter, as evidenced by this shot of the 65 ft. Arch on a frigid January day. Cold air, low in moisture content, allows for exceptionally clear photos, film or digital.
More vigorous exercise is available along the magnificent ice flows emerging from the aquifer that was severed by building the original alignment. Here are three shots from a recent climb. Do not attempt this without proper gear and training, from a professional guide like Harry Phelps of Altitude Climbing Services of Chester, MA. There are a number of safety rules and proper use and care of equipment that can keep your adventure from becoming a tragedy. Harry can be reached at: 413.354.6383
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