- The Berkshires
:"Please note that this article on the Berkshires is about a geologic and cultural region in the United States; for other uses, see
other_name=Berkshire Hills, Berkshire Mountains
Monroe, Massachusetts, coord|42|42|40|N|73|01|11|W |type:mountain_region:US |display=title,inline
The Berkshires (pronounced as IPA|/ˈbɝkʃɝs/ or IPA|/ˈbɝkʃɪɹs/), located in the western parts of
Massachusettsand Connecticut, is both a specific highland geologic region and a broader associated cultural region. The region is also referred to as the Berkshire Hills, Berkshire Mountains, and, with regard to its physiography, Berkshire Plateau. Sir Francis Bernard, the Royal Governor, named the area "Berkshire," to honor his home county in England. Tourism is a principal industry, relying heavily on cultural art attractions and recreation.
Definition and context
Depending on the application, "The Berkshires" may have several different meanings. Politically,
Berkshire County, Massachusettswas a governing body formed in 1761; it includes the western fifth of the state. Geologically and physically, the Berkshires are a mountain range. The range is in fact the southern continuation of the Green Mountainsof Vermont, distinct from them only by their average lower elevation and by virtue of what side of the border they fall on. As a physical geography, the Berkshires extend from the Housatonic and Hoosic Rivervalleys in western Massachusetts, east to the western border of the Connecticut River valley in north central Massachusetts and the lower Westfield River valley in south central Massachusetts. In Connecticut they extend from the upper Houstatonic River valley in the northwest part of the state, south along the western border of the state, east to the Farmington Rivervalley in north central Connecticut, south to the Quinnipiac Rivervalley in central Connecticut, then southwest to the Housatonic River valley in southwest Connecticut. Culturally, however, the term "Berkshires" includes all of the highland region in western Massachusetts west of the Connecticut Riverand lower Westfield River, and all of northwest Connecticut from the Farmington River valley in the northern part of the state in a diagonal arc west to Winsted and Litchfield, then southwest to Lake Candlewoodon the New York border and ending in Ridgefield, Connecticut. The cultural region also includes the Taconic Mountainsbordering New York, which are geologically distinct from the Berkshire orogeny. Southwest Vermont and the Taconic region of New York are occasionally grouped with the Berkshires.
The Berkshires run primarily through three counties:
Berkshire County, Massachusetts
Litchfield County, Connecticut
Fairfield County, Connecticut.
Geologically, the Berkshires are bordered on the west by the
Taconic Mountains, the marblevalleys of the Hoosic Riverand Housatonic Riverand, further south, by the Hudson Highlands; to the east, they are bordered by the Metacomet Ridgegeology. They are on the average convert|1000|ft|m|abbr=on lower and less prominent than the Green Mountains of Vermont, and form a broad, dissected plateaupunctuated by hills and peaks and cut by river valleys. The Berkshires topography gradually diminishes in profile and elevation from west to east and from north to south, except where rivers have cut deep gorges and sharp bluff faces into the Berkshire plateau.
The highest point in the Berkshires geology is Crum Hill, convert|2841|ft|m of
Monroe, Massachusetts; however, Mount Greylockof the Taconic Mountains, 3,491 ft (1,064 m), the highest point in the state of Massachusetts, is considered the high point of the Berkshires cultural region. The average regional elevation of the Berkshires ranges from about 700 to 1,200 feet (213 to 365 meters). The Berkshires and related Green Mountains were formed over half a billion years ago when Africacollided with North America, pushing up the Appalachian Mountainsand forming the bedrockof the Berkshires. Erosion over hundreds of millions of years wore these mountains down to the hills that we see today.
The Housatonic River, Hoosic River,
Westfield River, and Deerfield Riverwatersheds drain the Berkshires region in Massachusetts; in Connecticut the main river drainages are the Farmington River, the Naugatuck River, the Shepaug River, and the Housatonic River.
As a framework for assessing environmental resources, the
United States Environmental Protection Agencyin Massachusetts (Griffith et al. 1994) has defined six different types of "ecoregions" within this area: Taconic Mountains, Western New England Marble Valleys, Lower Berkshire Hills, Berkshire Highlands, Vermont Piedmont, and Berkshire Transition. Each region is distinct from the others providing a unique habitat assemblage. Much of the Hoosic and Housatonic River Valleys have underlying bedrock limestone and marble which contribute to calcareous wetlands, unique to Massachusetts. The alkaline pHwaters support a diversity of plants and animals intolerant of more acidic waters, some which are state-listed rare or endangered. Combined with the rich mesic forests ranging from the northern hardwood to the taigaor sub-alpine, makes for a valuable, biologically diverse ecosystem.
The classic study of the vegetation of the
Berkshire Highlandswas Egler's 1940 monograph, [Egler, F. E. 1940. Berkshire plateau vegetation, Massachusetts. Ecological Monographs 10:147-192.] covering the flora of an area stretching roughly from Pittsfield, MA in the west to Hatfield, MA in the east, and from Goshen, CT in the south, north to the Vermontborder.
Today, efforts are being made on behalf of many organizations to preserve and manage this region for biological diversity and sustainable human development. Recreation directly related to this ecology is a popular area for trout fishing, and the area's relative pristineness contributes to the popularity of nature walks in the region. "See also:" [http://drm.williams.edu/nhb/index.htm Natural History of the Berkshires]
The Berkshires are a popular tourist attraction and vacation getaway, serving the same function in relation to
Connecticutand Massachusettsthat the Catskills do in New Yorkand the Poconosfor Pennsylvania. With numerous trails, including part of the Appalachian Trail, large tracts of wilderness, parks like Kent Falls, Berkshire Botanical Gardenand Hebert Arboretumthe Berkshires are very popular with nature lovers. The range includes Bash Bish Falls, the tallest waterfall in Massachusetts.
Northwestern Connecticut features the covered bridges of Kent and West Cornwall, fly fishing, canoeing and spectacular fall foliage along the Housatonic River valley and the quiet woods and lichen-covered cracked granite hills of the Appalachian trail.
Tanglewood Music Center in Lenox is the summer home of the
Boston Symphony Orchestra. The Chapin Library at Williams Collegedisplays a wide selection of rare books and documents. The Norman Rockwell Museum, Clark Art Institute, Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art(MassMoCA), and Williams College Museum of Art(WCMA) comprise the region's diverse selection of art museums, and Gallery 51, [http://carriehaddadgallery.com/ Carrie Haddad Gallery] and [http://www.kolokgallery.com Kolok Gallery] are three of the Area's highly regarded private art galleries.
The area is also home to numerous summer stock theatre festivals, such as the [http://www.wtfestival.org/ Williamstown Theatre Festival] (Williamstown), [http://www.berkshiretheatre.org/ Berkshire Theatre Festival] (Stockbridge), Shakespeare & Company (Lenox), and plays host to America's first and longest-running dance festival,
Jacob's Pillow. The Berkshires are also home to dozens of summer camps, some of which date back to the turn of the 20th Century, the oldest being Becket Chimney Corners YMCA. Also, one of the most impressive camps being the all-boys camp [http://www.campgreylock.com/ Camp Greylock] .
* Vegetation of New England
Berkshire Cottages: Naumkeag, Edith Wharton's The Mount, Ventfort Halland Arundel Hall, used in the book The Penderwicks
The Berkshires are mentioned in the James Taylor classic "Sweet Baby James".
"Now the first of December was covered with snow.And so was the turnpike from Stockbridge to Boston.Lord, the Berkshires seemed dream-like on account of that frosting.With ten miles behind me and ten thousand more to go".
* [http://www.berkshirelinks.com/ Browse the Berkshires]
* [http://www.berkshires.org/ Berkshire Visitor's Bureau]
* [http://www.berkshirevisualarts.org/ Berkshire Visual Arts Guide to Galleries, Museums and Art Organizations]
* [http://www.berkshirebiz.org/ Berkshire Chamber of Commerce]
* [http://www.mass.gov/dcr/western.htm Massachusetts State Parks in the Berkshires]
* [http://www.hidden-hills.com/ Explore the Berkshire Foothills of Western Massachusetts]
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