Hikers on the July 20 Granville Gorge hike with the Western Mass. Hilltown Hikers will view this outlook vista from Drake Mountain.

Reminder Publishing photo by Amy Porter

The Western Mass. Hilltown Hikers’ next group hike will be at Granville Gorge in Southwick and Granville on July 20 at 10 a.m. The hike rating is moderate, an approximately 3.5 mile loop with 600 feet of elevation gain, a brook crossing, and one steep climb to the vista.

“We will start this summer time hiking adventure crossing Munn Brook in the heart of the gorge in the greenery of a magical chasm surrounded by moss and clear flowing water and giant boulders,” according to a description published by the Hilltown Hikers, whose organizers always hike the trails multiple times before a public group hike.

The group said the hike will “cross the Granville-Southwick town border visiting the boundary stone and then up Drake Mountain … to a grand vista … down to Drake Brook and follow it to old Winchell Road … once a booming colonial village before the land was taken by eminent domain to build both Winchell and Granville Reservoir for water supply.

“The Winchell Reservoir was built in 1899. Its capacity was more than 3 million gallons to supply the growing city of Westfield. By 1929 the capacity of the Winchell Reservoir was inadequate for the city’s needs and was abandoned. We will visit the remains of the reservoir and where the gate house once stood.”

This hike, with its hilly terrain, beautiful vistas and historical significance, is what the Western Mass. Hilltown Hikers, a 501c3 non-profit, is all about.

“We’re the all-in-one outdoor recreation and history … adventure, nature, history — we follow that to a T,” said Elizabeth Massa, the Hilltown Hikers’ co-founder and president.

Since 2016, Massa, who lives in Chester, co-founder Karen McTaggart of Russell, and scores of other hikers have hiked, cleared, mapped and researched trails all over Western Massachusetts and guided trips for thousands of local residents and visitors to the area.

After becoming a non-profit, Western Mass. Hilltown Hikers purchased 2.6 acres in Chester, the site of the Hudson & Chester Granite Co. finishing works factory, in order to preserve the site and open it to the public.

The land, which is across from the historic Chester Railway Station museum, has the last remaining granite shot saw in Massachusetts as well as remains from the factory, including the loading dock, parts from a derrick crane used to load the granite, and train tracks from a railroad line connecting the site to the Becket quarry, now owned by the Massachusetts Trustees of Reservations, which operates the Becket Land Trust museum at the quarry.

Massa said the Western Mass. Hilltown Hikers has 14,000 followers on social media.

“The organization has grown faster than there is time in the day to comprehend what’s going on,” she said.

Twenty-two area libraries have asked for presentations in the fall. The nonprofit has also formed partnerships with many other groups and organizations involved in hiking, conservation and history, including local historical societies and the Hilltown Land Trust.

“This year has been stellar,” Massa said.

In January, the Hilltown Hikers signed a partnership agreement with the state Department of Conservation and Recreation, and is in the process of signing a memorandum of understanding with the National Park Service. Two months ago, the group signed an agreement to be volunteers for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at Littleville and Knightville dams in Huntington; Massa said that program hasn’t started yet. She said they are also the new stewards of Wright Memorial Forest in Chester, which is over 1,000 acres.

Western Mass. Hilltown Hikers just purchased 30 more acres in Chester abutting Chester-Blandford State Forest and the Hilltown Land Trust, creating a 40-acre parcel of new conserved land. She said the organization is building an educational center in Chester abutting the conserved land — a 1,000-square-foot building that is going to be outfitted for educational classes.

“We will have our own office and conference room and will put all our Hilltown and Western Mass. historical stuff, along with two computer stations for research,” Massa said, adding the group plans to offer classes for 30 to 50 people in the educational center, which it hopes to build by the end of the year.

All of the information on upcoming activities and group hikes, including downloadable maps of area trails and links to other social media sites is at westernmasshilltownhikers.com.

For the Granville Gorge hike on July 20, people are asked to register per car at westernmasshilltownhikers.ticketleap.com. The suggested donation for this volunteer-led hike is $10.

Maps and bottled water will be provided. Hikers should be prepared for rocks, roots and some uneven ground. The hike takes place rain or shine. Friendly dogs are welcome. More details are on www.hilltownhikers.com. For more information, email westernmasshilltownhikers@aol.com or call or text 413-302-0312.