Ames Nowell State Park is a state-owned, public recreation area located in the towns of Hadley and South Hadley in the Connecticut River Valley of western Massachusetts. The park’s 2,400 acres (970ha) include forested hills, glacial lakes, rolling meadows, narrow valleys with steep sides, and bedrock outcroppings known as “knobs.” In addition to its proximity to Mount Holyoke, it is also within striking distance of Mount Katahdin, the highest peak in Maine at 4,269 feet (1,316m).
Amenities include miles of open access trails, extensive hardwood forests, freshwater ponds, rocky outcrops, and views of the entire valley. There is a small picnic area near the parking lot, and several camping sites are available, ranging from regular tent campsites to fully equipped yurts. Horseback rides are offered during May, June, and September. Geocaches can be found throughout the park, and the park hosts a variety of events, including hayrides, guided trail walks, craft workshops, and naturalist programs. The Ames Nowell Ski Area, consisting of ski runs and terrain parks, operates primarily in the winter months, charging fees depending on the type of permit you have purchased. Regular permits, valid at any state park or forest reserve in Massachusetts, allow unlimited access, skier/snowboarder equipment use, and group event attendance. Half-day and full-day ski passes are also available, offering greater convenience.
Other amenities include:
- Campsites & RVs – Prior registration required. Group campground has 30 electric hookups and 10 non-electric sites. Full facility with flush toilets and hot showers is accessible via the main trail loop. Half-site campground features 8 electric hookups and 3 non-electric sites. No drinking water is available in either campground.
- Tent and Parking Lot – Open year-round. Located just outside the park entrance, this informal campground features 6 leantos, many trees, and ample flat ground. It is popular with local residents and visitors interested in spending time outside the city, but space is limited and availability depends on snowfall. Access is via the Mystic Trail, with the exception of weekends only, when the gate is left open. Note that snow plows frequently clear this area of drifts, leaving behind a very level pad for walking and snowshoeing.
- Bike Route – Seasonal, subject to change. Dedicated bike lanes exist in certain areas of the park, though they may be covered by snow.
- Blackberry Farm – Registered historic farm, closed to the general public except for annual reenactments. Originally owned by the Clark family, then later by the Forbes family, the farm is currently managed by Peter and Ellen Larkin, great-grandchildren of Ephraim Clark and grandchildren of William Clark III. They operate the farm under the auspices of the Friends of Blackberry Farm, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving the history of the farm and presenting it to current generations.
The farm contains approximately 200 acres, mainly wooded, and includes four buildings dating back to various periods, beginning with the oldest, the barn, which dates back to circa 1800. Next comes the Wheeler House, a traditional New England structure built in 1832, followed by the Forbes house, originally built in 1840. Last comes the Young House, which was built sometime prior to 1865, although the exact date is uncertain. Each of these structures is architecturally unique, and each demonstrates a different period in American architectural history.
The grounds contain numerous outbuildings, many of them also built by the Clark family, which ran a prosperous dairy farm here in the 19th century. At least ten headstones are visible in the cemetery adjacent to the churchyard. Many of these stones are simply marked “William Clark,” indicating that the person buried beneath had been a member of the same extended family as the owner of the farm. Others carry specific dates of birth and death, as well as the initials “W.C.,” demonstrating that this was no ordinary grave marker, but rather the final resting place of someone special to the family.
The park was created through a partnership between the town of Hadley, which owns most of the land, and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, which paid half the cost of development. The state park opened to the public on July 1, 2016; it officially became part of the Massachusetts state parks system two years later. A significant expansion of more than 900 acres occurred in 2022 when the state acquired an additional parcel directly abutting the park property. This brought the total acreage to nearly 2000 acres.
The park bears the name of Amos Nowell, who was one of the first European settlers to make his home in what would become the Upper Part of Hadley. He settled there in 1793, where he began farming wheat, corn, and livestock. His farm produced enough surplus that he was able to purchase 80 acres of surrounding woodland, on condition that he could build a water-powered mill on the site by 1826. He built the mill, but died before it could be operated. His son, John Amory Nowell, took over the management of the estate until his death, after which it passed into the hands of trustees.
One of these trustees, Edward Turner, arranged for the construction of a carriage road from the village of Hadley to the park, which opened around 1860. Another trustee, Charles H. Senff, leased pastureland to the now defunct Metacomet-Monadnock Mountain Railroad, which used it as a right-of-way. When this lease expired in 1929, the railroad company sold off large parcels of their former right-of-way, including the portion traversing the park. However, much of the track bed remained in place, serving as a scenic route across the countryside. With financial assistance from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the state highway department laid new asphalt along portions of this route in 1958, creating what are today known as the Black Diamond Highway and the Old Dodgingtown Road.
These roads intersect at the Blackstone Circle, a roundabout constructed in 1960. Although the original intent was for the circle to serve as the northern terminus of both routes, it was soon discovered that traffic volumes were not high enough to justify the expense of paving all the way to the summit of Mount Holyoke, so instead a bypass was paved to the east, allowing traffic to continue on the old roads beyond the circle. As a result, the southern end of the park saw increased visitation, while the north side remained largely undeveloped. To rectify this imbalance, the state acquired an additional parcel south of the park, bringing the total acreage to nearly 2000.
An agreement was made to develop 500 acres of this new land as a separate state park, with an initial opening date of 2021. The new park, named after the late Senator Scott Brown, will be contiguous with Ames Nowell State Park, sharing some common boundaries. Development costs were split 50/50 between the states, with Massachusetts providing $2 million and Rhode Island providing $1 million. The new park officially opened on June 5, 2022, coinciding with the 20th anniversary of Ames Nowell State Park.
Ames Nowell State Park offers opportunities for:
- mountain biking
- cross-country skiing
- horseback riding