Pittsfield celebrated Arbor Day with the newly redesigned Wild Acres conservation area.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The city celebrated Arbor Day this year with the official debut of the redesigned and reopen Wild Acres conservation area.
"Today we welcome our community back to this place, this oasis in our city," said James McGrath, the city's Parks, Open Spaces and Natural Resources manager on Friday morning. "A place that's been part of the fabric of Pittsfield for generations."
After being mostly inaccessible for several years due to the adjacent airport construction project, which significantly altered its shape, officials welcomed the public into the redesigned 112-acre conservation area with a ribbon cutting following a ceremony in celebration of the national tree-planting holiday.
Arbor Day, now in its 142nd year, has been commemorated in Pittsfield for the past 15 years with a proclamation.
"The Arbor Day proclamation is one of my favorites," Mayor Daniel Bianchi told a crowd of about 50 gathered in the park's new pavilion. "Especially when it's on a day like today."
"I urge all citizens to celebrate Arbor Day, and to support efforts to protect our trees and our woodlands," said Bianchi.
With regards to the enhancements made in reopening Wild Acres, McGrath said he had seen substantial improvements to numerous city parks over the 12 years he has been in his position, citing such examples as the Belanger Youth Athletic Facility, Burbank Park, continuing redevelopment of the Pittsfield Common and the construction Pittsfield Skate Plaza.
"With the support of this and past administrations, we've proven that continued investment in our parks and open spaces makes sense on so many levels," he said. "We'll continue our work to this end, because this is what the residents of Pittsfield want: safe and well maintained parks that offer a range of diversity for a diversity of interests."
Keynote speaker William Lattrell, a wetlands scientist and restoration ecologist, spoke poetically of the complex environmental interplay between trees, wildlife and human society.
"I've taken some time to walk around Wild Acres a bit," said Lattrell, who regaled the audience with anecdotes on the interactions of the flora and fauna of the surrounding woodland. "It's absolutely beautiful, it's full of mystery, it's bubbling over the top with hope."
Wild Acres, according to Conservation Commission Chairman James Conant, began as a substantially different 83-acre tract of land once owned by the Shakers, who built its pond. After the 80-year tenure of the Shakers, it was sold to a private owner who added log cabins and concrete dams to the pond. In 1929, the property was donated to the Isaac Walton League and was opened four years later as a private outdoors recreation and sportsman's club, whose membership reached a peak of more than 500 in the later 1930s.
The club eventually folded, and the property was given to the city of Pittsfield, who placed it under the purview of the Conservation Commission, who oversaw extensive construction of buildings, recreational amenities and picnic areas in the 1970s.
A significant portion of the original Wild Acres area was claimed in 2007 for the eventual expansion of the city's municipal airport, and replaced by additional acreage of forest and farmland acquired by eminent domain. The Arbor Day celebration marked the debut of the newly installed pavilion, accessible bathrooms, and a small cabin for educational field trips and programs.
As part of the ceremony, Bianchi specifically acknowledged some of the volunteers who have contributed greatly to planting and maintaining trees in the city.
This includes Joseph Guertin, a member of the Pittsfield Tree Watch and longtime volunteer in the city who passed away in February. The mayor also thanked Robert Presutti, a well-trained arborist who maintains many of the city's trees. A tireless RSVP station chief and former president of the Hebert Arboretum, Presutti was awarded earlier this month with a Massachusetts Certified Arborist designation, and is one of only a handful of arborists who have attained this highest level of certification in the commonwealth.
"I think it's fitting on Arbor Day, and at the end of April, which is Volunteer Recognition Month, to recognize so many of you who give so much to the city," said Bianchi.
"Those that volunteer their time to improving our parks and our cities are too numerous to mention," said McGrath, "Their works is much needed, and most definitely appreciated."
The reopening celebration continued on Saturday with the second annual Fishing Derby sponsored by Lyon Aviation at the Wild Acres pond.
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