Ashland 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 1,100 acres (450ha) include forested hills, glacial plains, rolling meadows, and narrow valleys with steep sides. It is managed by the Department of Conservation and Recreation which protects forests of the North American beech (Fagus grandifolia), eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis), and yellow birch (Betula papyrifera). In addition to these hardwoods, black cherry trees (Prunus serotina) are abundant throughout the park.
This park has over 26 miles (42km) of hiking trails including paved roads for biking, horseback riding, and wheelchairs. There is also an extensive network of mountain bike routes available through the Special Use Permit process. A major feature of the park is Mount Holyoke, named after the first Catholic saint ever born. On its northeast slope there is a 588-foot (180m) summit accessible via the Mt. Holyoke Trail or the Appalachian Trail. From either trail one can see Mount Tom, Mount Everett, Sleeping Giant Mountain, and the Catskill Mountains across the Hudson River. On clear days, Long Island Sound lies just beyond. To the west, there are views of the Berkshires, the Taconic Mountains, and the Green Mountains of Vermont. Views from the peak include the City of Boston, Mount Washington, and even Stone Mountain, Georgia.
The park hosts numerous events including cross country skiing, snowmobiling, picnics, weddings, barbecues, music festivals, parades, and fairs. The annual Halloween Hikes event is held each year around Halloween. Activities include guided tours of historic sites, performances by costumed docents, and hikes up Mount Holyoke. The park was closed between 2010 and 2013 due to budget cuts but reopened under new management in 2014. Budgetary concerns continued into 2015 when the DCR announced it would not be renewing their contract with the park when it expired on June 30, 2016. However, following a campaign led by local advocates, the state government agreed to take over operations of the park, allowing it to remain open until September 3, 2017, when it too shut down for lack of funding.
After two years without any formal programming, Ashland State Park returned to regular scheduled events in 2018, hosting more than 100 events including 70 weddings, 20 barbecues, 150 picnic tables, 50 group campsites, 10 family campsites, and 15 tent camping sites. The park boasts 28 miles (45km) of hiking trails, 12 miles (19km) of ski trails, 6 miles (9.7km) of bridle paths, 4 miles (6.4km) of mountain bike routes, and 2 miles (3.2km) of equestrian path. The park features a pond for fishing, a playground, playing fields, a campground with tent and trailer sites, cabins, inn, restaurant, and shop. The park’s grounds were used as a filming location for Ghostbusters, Back to the Future Part III, Kindergarten Cop, Little Darlings, I’ll Be Home for Christmas, and TV series Hannibal.
The park is crossed by the Mattatuck Trail, connecting the Metacomet-Monadnock Trail in the north with the Berkshire Bike Route in the south. The park offers a wide variety of terrain, ranging from broadleaf forests and glacial erratics to rocky outcrops and wetlands. Elevation ranges from 640 feet (200m) atop Mount Holyoke to less than 400 feet (120m) along the banks of the Pascack Brook.
Ashland State Park is home to the only known Asiatic black bear population within Massachusetts. The bears frequent the park because they are able to find food, especially berries, in the dense vegetation. Since becoming established in the 1970s, the bear population has grown significantly, and there are now approximately 100 black bears found in the park.The largest recorded male was killed in 2011; his tusks measured 16 inches (41cm) long. Two female cubs were orphaned in early March 2020 after their mother was killed by a motor vehicle while crossing the street near the park entrance.
The state immediately stepped up efforts to protect the remaining animals, flying blind in daylight hours so as not to attract attention to the park. Volunteers provided daily monitoring of the den site through the end of April, alerting officials whenever the bears emerged. Officials estimated the animal count at 87 before euthanizing 13 of them, despite public outcry against the plan. Some human remains were also discovered in the vicinity of the den site.
The land was purchased by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in 1942, with development beginning in 1948. Originally called Mount Holyoke State Forest, it became Ashland State Park in 1950. The name change was made official by the Board of Registration in Forests in May 1951. An additional 736 acres (298ha) were added to the park in 1957 bringing the total acreage to 860 acres (360ha). Another small tract of 120 acres (49ha) was added in 1960, taking the park’s acreage to 962 acres (382ha).
Further additions have included Mount Benson State Reservation, Grafton Woods State Reserve, and Bradley Palmer State Forest. Development work began in 1959 with construction starting in 1961. At least 200 workers were involved in the project, mostly young men working for the WPA, CCC, and Civilian Conservation Corps. They built fireplaces, bridges, observation towers, shelters, roads, and cleared streams. One worker died while on the job. The park opened to the public in 1964.
Wildlife observed at this park includes;
- white-tailed deer
- cottontail rabbits
Birds that inhabit here are:
- owls such as screech owls
- herring gulls
- double-crested cormorants
- red-shouldered hawks
- turkey vultures
- wild turkeys
- bald eagles
- cow birds