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Happening Hampshire County

By Tom Richardson; Photos by AJ Derosa
Colorful kayaks line the bank prior to an evening paddle on the Connecticut River.

It was a day of making some new friends and reconnecting with an old one. Yesterday (May 26) found me in western Massachusetts to begin production on our new Hampshire County episode, and my cameraman was none other than AJ Derosa, who was instrumental in helping to launch Explore New England in 2017 (AJ shot and edited ENE’s first feature film, “Seeking the Source”). AJ has since gone on to build the successful Project Upland brand, but I managed to coax him into the field for a reunion of sorts.

Lady slipper along the trail at Mount Warner Reservation in Hadley, MA.

AJ’s a true talent, and we immediately found our groove on a hike with Brian Pearson of Adventure East, a company that offers a wide range of guided outdoor experiences in western and central Massachusetts, from mountain biking to foraging to forest bathing. We met Brian at the Mount Warner Reservation—a Trustees of Reservations property—in North Hadley for a short hike along the two-mile loop trail. Along the way, we filmed several vernal pools, a salamander, mighty old maples, lady slippers, a magical fern-covered glade and “Lou’s Rock”—a massive glacial erratic.

Jacob Lindeman grills a trailside feast at Carr's Cidery as AJ Derosa captures the process on camera.

After an hour or so, we emerged from the woods and entered a large meadow and apple orchard overlooking a section of the Connecticut River Valley. This was part of Carr’s Ciderhouse farm, and one of Adventure East’s lunch venues. To that end, chef Jacob Lindeman had been busy preparing a meal based on local ingredients cooked over an open fire. On the menu was free-range chicken, lamb sausages, asparagus (it’s asparagus season after all), onions and goat cheese, washed down with a bottle of Carr’s hard cider.

Fresh local asparagus!

Following our delicious grilled repast, we ambled down the hill to meet cidery owners Nicole Blum and Jonathan Carr. The couple walked us through the cider-making process, which starts with a variety of apples grown on-site and ends with several varieties of all-natural hard cider, syrup, and vinegar, all available for purchase via their website or at the farmstand on River Drive.

The 1890 cider press used at Carr's Ciderhouse in Hadley, MA.

Later in the day, we reconvened at the Adventure East headquarters in Sunderland to prepare for our evening paddling excursion on the nearby Connecticut River. At 5:00, guide Brad Walker and I launched our kayaks at the Sunderland boat launch and headed upstream to check out a bald eagle nest containing two curious nestlings. Brad explained that eagles are common along the river these days, and paddlers are almost guaranteed to see at least one during their trip. Of course, other bird species can be seen along the banks, including kingfishers, sandpipers, egrets, hawks, and great blue heron. AJ, who was filming from a canoe paddled by guide Trevor Brightman, managed to get some incredible close-up footage of a heron that allowed him to approach within 15 feet before finally flapping off across the river.

Trevor and Aj make their way downstream while filming on the Connecticut River between Sunderland and Hatfield.

As we headed downstream toward Hatfield, Brad and I shared paddling stories and discussed safety tips for newbie kayakers on the Connecticut. Along the way, we stopped to “surf” some standing waves below the Sunderland Bridge and explore a feeder stream. From the cockpit of a kayak, you can really appreciate how big the Connecticut is, and that size demands respect, particularly in windy conditions or when river flow is high.

Many thanks to Adventure East for facilitating an epic day of experiences and filming. AJ and I will return to Hampshire County in a few weeks to round out the episode, and we can’t wait to see what Brian and crew have in store!


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