The Cascades (also known as the Cascade), a roughly 85-acre park featuring hiking trails and a 45-foot waterfall, has been a popular recreation site for locals and tourists for over a century. It’s history as a city park, however, is much more recent and was the result of decades-long efforts by city officials and residents to acquire the land for public use.
Up until the 1950s, the property known as the Cascades, beginning at the end of Marion Avenue and continuing to Notch Road, was owned by Henry O. Wells and his nephew, Robert O. Wells, owner of the Cascade Paper Company. Because of its scenic beauty and close location to the city’s West End neighborhood, locals would park their cars at the end of Marion Avenue and access the trails there. The local Boy Scouts troops used the area for training for their woodcraft lore and merit badge training and it was also a popular area for picnicking, particularly under the shade provide by the numerous hemlock trees found on site.
Local efforts to preserve the Cascades as a public recreation area date back to the 1930s. In 1938, the Cascades were threatened by deforestation because one of the owners of the land surrounding the Cascades wanted to cut down trees to sell for lumber. In response, a group known as the Cascade Group was formed to organize citizens to sign a petition to stop the owner from cutting down trees to sell. These efforts resulted in 1,200 people to sign the petition.
Alongside these efforts, the Cascade Group planned a three day “Pageant of the Cascade” from June 29 to July 1, 1938 at Noel Field to raise funds to preserve the area. The pageant included a cast of over 750 costumed performers, including over 200 members of the band and chorus. Scenes included in the performance were reenactments of the Battle of Fort Massachusetts, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 1833 visit to North Adams, and Susan B. Anthony’s early days in Adams, Massachusetts. Despite a widely praised and well-attended first day, the remaining two days were plagued by torrential downpours and the pageant finished $300 dollars in the red. Further efforts to purchase the property for public use also failed to receive the necessary support from the City Council.
Efforts to create a park at the Cascades would remain unfulfilled until the 1970s. In 1974, the city, working with the Berkshire Natural Resources Council, received federal funds for 75% of the purchase price and closing costs for the property. The final cost to the city came to $6,000. The city acquired the rest of the surrounding land by the Cascades through eminent domain and added the property to city’s yearly budget to maintain the up keep of the land and to preserve it as a wilderness only area. Recently, the trailhead to access the park was moved from Marion Avenue to besides Brayton Elementary School.