Greycourt 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 2,300 acres (930ha) include forested hillsides, glacial lakes, waterfalls, and mill chutes as well as agricultural fields, grazing land, and wetlands along the river. It is managed by the Department of Conservation and Recreation which protects forests throughout the region under an ancient system known as the “Forest Reserve.” In addition to its natural features, the park contains the site of the historic Jackson Mill, where John Brown was hanged for his role in the 1859 American Civil War. The park has hiking trails, camping facilities, boat launch, picnic areas with playgrounds, fishing pond, and cross-country skiing trails. A portion of the Appalachian Trail runs through the park.
The park also includes Mount Holyoke, Mount Tom, and Northampton mountains as well as the Ossipee Mountains in the neighboring town of Hadley. The park is accessible from Rt 47 in Hadley. Parking costs $5 per car on weekdays, but is free on weekends and holidays. Boat launches are available at a cost of $8/car each way. Camping facilities including tent sites, trailer hookups, electric hookups, fire rings, and sanitary restrooms are available year round. Half of the campsites are available for self-registration on a first come first served basis, while the remainder require reservations. Reservations can be made online through the DCR reservation system or over phone. Group campground, accommodating up to 100 people, is equipped with flush toilets, hot showers, vending machines, and parking lot. Toilets and shower facilities are open mid-April through mid-October.
There are 12 miles (19km) of maintained dirt roads within the park that allow access to many different trail heads. 14 miles (23km) of mountain biking trails are found within the park, ranging from easy to difficult terrain. 6 miles (9.7km) of snowshoeing trails are available during part of the winter season. Cross-country skiing is allowed when the weather permits, but no specific ski area is designated. No pets are allowed in the campground or group camp, and all dogs must have proof of inoculation before entering the park. Hunting is permitted in about half of the park, mostly on the Mount Holyoke side. Hunters are expected to follow the rules and regulations of the Massachusetts Game Commission.The hunting of groundhogs is prohibited. Approximately 200 acres (81ha) of the park are farmed, primarily producing corn, soybeans, and wheat. Other crops such as potatoes, peas, and buckwheat are grown in small plots as well.
The Jackson Mill ruins stand guard over the northeastern corner of the park, overlooking Lake Massapoag. The remains consist of three water wheels, two large grind stones, and various other machinery foundations, walls, and fences. One of the largest grindstones measures 30 feet (9.1m) wide and 60 feet (18m) long. The top of another grindstone is shaped like a giant boot. Visitors can see remnants of the wooden canal that brought textile goods from the farms to the industrial centers of the Lowell area. The stone canal ran directly past the millrace, which now houses the Littlefield Dam, built in 1924 to provide drinking water for the mills.
The Jackson Mill was powered by the waters of the Ashland River, which drop 16 feet (4.9m) between high and low water marks, running northward some four miles (6.4km) east of the mill. Water from the river flowed via flume (a trough of wood chips used for washing yarn and threads) to the base of a 600 foot (180 m) wheel, turning its 40-foot (12 m) circumference. Downstream from the mill, the river passed through a 90-foot (27 m) waterfall, dropping another 16 feet (4.9m). Beyond the falls, the river entered a short gorge and turned west, passing underneath a covered bridge called the Rainbow Bridge. The river continued beyond the park limits, flowing around Mt. Tom and meeting the Connecticut River near the confluence of the Pawcatuck River.
The Jackson Mill was established in 1828, and operated successfully until it was destroyed by fire in 1861. Its replacement opened in 1865, but burned down just seven years later. Ownership of the property was transferred to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in 1870, and the Jackson Mill was rebuilt in time for the annual fall harvest. Operation ended with the Great Depression, when the farmlands were converted to pasture. The state took possession of the property again in 1942, maintaining it as a major tourist attraction until 1967, when it was transferred to the newly formed Department of Conservation and Recreation. It soon became clear that more than simply preserving the old attractions, it was necessary to renew interest in the lands and their resources. An ecological center was developed, and in 1973, the state broke ground on a new visitor center, named after former governor William Weld.
Additional acreage was added to the park in 1980, bringing the total to nearly 900 acres (360ha), and in 1990, the campground was renovated. However, despite these improvements, attendance remained lackluster. Faced with an ever-diminishing pool of interested young people, coupled with steadily increasing maintenance costs, the department decided in 1995 to close the campground entirely. When the campground reopened in 1997, it had been repaved and there was talk of adding RV sites, but once again attendance failed to meet expectations. Frustrated, the department considered selling the entire parcel. That idea was quickly dismissed, however, when locals suggested reopening the campground. Research showed that although visitation had fallen, traffic had not. Rather than attempt to bring back campers whose numbers had dwindled to almost nothing, the department opted to concentrate on attracting back those middle-aged and older adults who had stopped coming to the park because it lacked any overnight accommodations.
Thus, in 2001, a 550-square-foot (46m2) lodge was constructed, opening in September 2003. Despite initial optimism, the lodge proved to be only moderately successful, and after one year, the facility was closed. Since 2011, there have been attempts to secure a liquor license for the park, but so far none has been granted. Some bars in nearby Hadley offer to sell drinks specifically to those driving to the park. Because of the relatively remote nature of the park, emergencies services are limited, and residents needing medical care are driven to UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester, 150 miles (240km) away. Additionally, due to icy conditions, the park is inaccessible to disabled individuals using wheelchairs.
During World Wars I and II, the Jackson Mill processed wool into fabric for the military. After the mills closed, they were purchased by Weyerhauser Corporation who used them until 1963 when they too were shut down. At this point, the property was transferred to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and became known as Greycourt State Park. The state began renovation of the mills in 1972, and completed construction of new buildings in 1974. This created an opportunity for visitors like Nancy Dess, then director of special events, who organized the first Earth Day celebration held in Boston’s City Hall Square on April 22, 1970. With support from local environmental organizations, she helped lead efforts to create what would become one of America’s leading state parks. She later went on to help establish Quinnipiac University’s Environmental Education Center, serving as its founding Director. Her work continues today through the Nancy Dess Foundation for Sustainable Development.
The common game species are:
- ruffed grouse
- eastern gray squirrels
- wild turkey
- white-tailed deer
- black bears