City Council President Peter Marchetti read a proclamation to celebrate Arbor Day.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — It may seem like an odd setting to celebrate Arbor Day: an active construction site where some trees have been removed and soil dug up, resting alongside a river historically known for pollution.
But the celebration wasn't about what the site off of Dewey Avenue is now. It is what it will be — the Westside Riverway Park.
The site of former blighted homes will eventually feature a number of new trees, access to the river, a walking bridge, and sitting areas as the city's newest park.
"If you had been here 18 months ago what you would have seen are 10 separate parcels. There were two houses along this stretch of Dewey Avenue, one was completely gutted by fire and the other was bordered up and abandoned. There was an old concrete structure," Parks and Open Space Manager James McGrath said.
"It took some very focused time and attention to be able to acquire 10 parcels. We acquired them through outright purchase or tax title taking."
The land is fenced off now with construction equipment on a relatively flat, barren land. McGrath says next year the plot should feature even more equipment as the park's construction will begin after a decade of effort.
"It is my hope that in the next couple of years, you will see some substantial improvements and we'll be able to cut a ribbon down here on Dewey Avenue at this park," McGrath said.
The city received a grant in 2007 to undertake a planning effort for the entire west bank of the Housatonic River. From that a number of projects came about — the removal of the Mill Street Dam, improvements to various parks along the banks, and the Westside Riverway Park. The city used federal Community Development Block Grants to start the work and the Environmental Protection Agency spent $250,000 to remediate contaminated soils there. The homes were torn down and the land is ready to be developed.
"This was 10 years ago, we developed this plan and here we are today realizing this vision," McGrath said.
It won't only be a nice park — it will connect the community closer to the Housatonic River. Dennis Regan of the Housatonic Valley Association said efforts have been ongoing for 20 years to clean up the once polluted river and bring it back to being a resource.
"There has been, especially in the past, a negative connotation to the Housatonic River. All you hear and see and read about is the pollutants that are in the river. Unfortunately that is true. It is a true story. But for the last 20 years or so there has been a multimillion restoration project going on to remove the PCB contamination from the river. That, by all studies, has proven to be effective," Regan said.
He envisions the day when people can go to the Westside Riverway Park and sit along the Housatonic
"We have people who live near this resource, the river, but most of them don't know much about it at all. You may see a sign going over the bridge and out of sight, out of mind," Regan said. "One of the things we see as a high priority in the Berkshires is to develop the local river as a community resource, a resource the community can use for not only recreation but therapeutic value."
This year, city officials did not plant a tree for Arbor Day as was the tradition. But next year, they'll be looking to plant two in the effort to turn polluted and blighted property into a new environmentally friendly resource for the citizens.
"We have an opportunity now to use this remediated river for the benefit of the communities and that's what we aim to do," Regan said.
Friday's event also featured City Council President Peter Marchetti, who read a proclamation to celebrate the day.
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