7-25-2020 - Parsons - Mount Jasper

The modern-day view of Berlin from the summit of Mount Jasper. (ED PARSONS PHOTO)

Mount Jasper in Berlin is a special place where people can experience a spiritual connection with the past, when the heartbeat of humanity was more aligned with that of the natural world.

Twelve thousand years ago, paleo Indians discovered veins of rhyolite on the rocky outcrops of Mount Jasper. Rhyolite is an ultra-fine grained granite that cooled very quickly from its molten phase. It was perfect for making flaked tools such as spear points, knives and arrowheads.

Natives mined the rock on the steep south face, then fashioned it into points on flat workshop sites, both on top of Mount Jasper and next to the marshy Dead River directly below the mountain. This was done for millennia up until firearms and iron tools replaced stone tools.

Today, the most prominent sign of this activity is a small cave located on the steep south slope where much of the rhyolite was removed by the natives. This cave was not discovered by modern Americans until the mid-1800’s.

The mountain is located within Berlin, yet the effort to preserve and protect it didn’t really get rolling until the now retired state archeologist, Richard Boisvert submitted an application for 41 acres of the mountain to the added to the Nation Register of Historical Places in the early 1990s. This included both mining and workshop sites that were inventoried by his archeological efforts.

It was accepted and added to the list on May, 29, 1992. Since then, no lithic material can be taken from the site. For the curious, an exhibit of rhyolite tools and points from Mount Jasper is at the Berlin Public Library.

Trails have been improved on the mountain and interpretive signs added. Old trails and roads traversed the acres surrounding the mountain, yet in 2011, the Blue Trail was constructed from the lower parking lot of the Berlin High School to the summit.

It was built by Jobs for American Graduates (JAG), a state and national organization which strives to prevent at risk youth from dropping out of school. There are many fine stone steps on the trail.

Also, the Yellow Trail from Cate’s Hill Road to the mountain was built in 2013 by the AMC Trail Crew and the local Berlin Enriched Learning Center (ELC), a place for behavioral and at risk youth.

In 2013, area artist Michael Eastman created interpretive paintings for the Blue Trail. His artwork was digitized and then made into signs. The signs, now placed along the trail, are true works of art that depict the lives of the paleo Indians, interpret natural history, and show what the valley looked like during paleo times. Eastman, who is part Abenaki, speaks the native language. He added relevant Abenaki words to the signs. In the summer of 2014, the Berlin Enriched Learning Center placed the signs on the trail.

Finally, AMC cartographer Larry Garland made a map of the mountain and its trails. This came be found on one of the signs.

I arrived in Berlin at about noon, on my way back from hiking near Stark. Coming from the west on Route 110, both Mount Jasper and the high school were visible on my left as I entered town. I kept bearing left on streets until I got to the high school, then drove to the end of the lower parking. The mountain was visible just ahead.

Walking a few yards to the trailhead, I encountered the largest sign that Eastman created, which gave an impressive visual and word description of the life of the area’s paleo Indians.

Then I headed up the trail, following the blue blazes up stone steps, across old roads, and past more colorful signs. Near the top, I had to stop for a while and admire the sign that depicted the river valley below thousands of years ago that Eastman had painted in colorful acrylic.

It was a good place for it, as a few feet later I emerged on the treeless summit. The same valley view spread below, yet with the city of Berlin.

I walked to the far end of the bare summit, then continued down a steep dike that led to the old cave of Jasper Mine part way down the south slope. Inside it, beautiful swirls of rhyolite covered the ceiling, exposed by natives in a different time.

From the mine, I continued down further on a trail that led to a lookout in the middle of the south face. There was a great view west up the Dead River towards the Kilkenny Region. This was the start of an old Abenaki portage route from the Androscoggin River up the Dead River to the Upper Ammonoosuc River and finally to the Connecticut River.

When I talked to Eastman on the phone, he said that Mount Jasper was much more than just a mine. For example, from its open ledges the natives could see anyone coming towards them from both east and west.

From my perch, I looked east at the town of Berlin, and west towards the wild Kilkenny. I climbed back to the top of Mount Jasper and headed down. Later, I visited the Berlin Public Library to see the exhibit of tools and points that natives fashioned from rhyolite from Mount Jasper, then headed south for home.

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