They say you can’t defend wild places if you have never visited them. While I am sure there is some wiggle room there, I firmly believe visiting a place instills a certain resolve within you to defend that place. You can speak of the areas character, not just the beautiful views or ecological value which can be derived from images and text but the smells, the feeling, and the minute details of a landscape that escape the lens of a camera. As an environmental advocate there is no substitute for experiencing a place.
This was especially true for me when I visited Mattison Hollow in Berlin, NY. It was a cool but pleasantly sunny day when we drove up to a gravel pull off shrouded by the shadows of thick hemlock trees. I had been told repeatedly of the unique character of the hollow, of its waterfalls and distinct history with charcoal making. In a state that has some of the country’s most amazing natural places, I was skeptical of what we would find a short drive outside of Albany.
The trail is mostly a casual ramble along the Kronk Brook towards the Taconic Ridge. There are several moderate sections of trail as you get closer to the ridge line. There were more than a few striking features of this hike that left a lasting memory and inspired me to share it with others. As a result of following a brook for most of the hike, you are never out of earshot of running water and in some cases the crash of water cascading down over a fall. The brook water was completely translucent, exposing, in stark detail, the rocky stream bed below. Waters like this are rarely enjoyed without pressing deep into the wilderness let alone a short drive outside of a large city.
Lining the shores of this brook were stands of hemlock, some several feet in diameter. These giant hemlocks are ancient and have flourished in this environment–exactly the type of tree that is worth saving from a new threat that could extirpate hemlocks from New York State. Hemlock Woolly Adelgid is an invasive species spreading north and wreaking havoc on Hemlock tree populations. An untreated infestation is lethal to the hemlock tree. As a foundation species, Hemlock help to establish and maintain the cool riparian habitat they exist in by shading brooks and holding onto snowpack longer.
These older trees represent the genetic stock that has proven its ability to survive in New York and it is important to protect them. For these trees alone, Mattison Hollow is of great ecological value to New York State. However, to combine these trees with the pristine and healthy brook that flows beneath them and the historic charcoal kilns along the bank creates a unique experience for recreationists.
Mattison Hollow surprised me with its magnificent hemlocks, crystalline waters and peppering of historic sites. It is a great example of how beautiful the lands surrounding Albany are, and stands out amongst all of New York’s ecologically important and scenic areas.