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State FY2020 Budget Has Funding for Flyer, Rural Schools

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NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — A compromise state spending bill reached over the weekend contains good news for the Berkshires, particularly its rural school districts. 
State Sen. Adam Hinds' amendment to increase the Rural School Aid grant program by $1 million, raising the total appropriation to $2.5 million, is included in the fiscal 2020 state budget along with $7.7 million for projects in the senator's district.
"This is a strong budget with serious investments in key areas such as public education and transportation, while addressing other pressing policy issues such as reducing the cost of prescription medications," Hinds said in a statement.
The $43.1 billion budget was passed on Monday by the House and Senate and sent to Gov. Charlie Baker, who has 10 days to sign it. 
Included in the spending package is $270,000 to fund the pilot season of the Berkshire Flyer, of which $30,000 will be used by the Berkshire Regional Transit Authority for a project manager. 
The Berkshire Flyer, based off the popular Cape Cod Flyer, calls for 20 weeks of passenger rail trips  next summer bringing people from New York City on a Friday afternoon to the Berkshires and home on Sunday. It is hoped to provide a significant boost to the region's tourism economy. The Department of Transportation previously did a feasibility study and agreed it would be worthy of a pilot.
The state Department of Transportation will be rquired to develop and execute a memorandum with the Berkshire Regional Transit Authority, which will be the local sponsor of the rail project, to determine the distribution of funding through MassDOT, BRTA and Amtrak. 
To help boost ridership, Hinds secure $100,000 for 1Berkshire to market the rail service in the New York City area. MassDOT earlier this year estimated the cost of operating the pilot initially at $421,561 a year, with revenue estimated at $185,000. 
In addition, the bill includes $250,000 for a marketing campaign to support the Valley Flyer (also referred to as the Knowledge Corridor or North-South Rail) pilot service, expected to begin this fall. And it directs MassDOT to conduct a feasibility study of costs and economic opportunities related to establishing passenger rail service between the cities of North Adams, Greenfield and Boston. 
Also in the spending bill is $50,000 for the Susan B. Anthony Memorial Park in Adams. The town plans to hold a celebration in 2020 marking the civil rights advocate's 200th birthday and the 100th anniversary of the passing of the 19th Amendment that gave women the right to vote. The Adams Suffrage Centennial Committee was formed a few years ago to steer this process and set a goal of $300,000 to fund the celebration and erect a statue to Anthony. The town is also applying for a state park grant to renovate the park.
The bill also has $125,000 in funding for the Berkshire Emergency Shelter Initiative to provide homeless individuals with access to overnight beds during the winter months; $200,000 for the Berkshire County youth development project through Railroad Street Youth Project; $50,000 to support the continuing efforts of the Berkshire Education Task Force; $50,000 to support operations and programming at the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition; $50,000 for Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts'Gallery 51 in downtown North Adams; and $10,000 for the Pittsfield Fourth of July Parade. 
The Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge is getting $25,000 to support its efforts to renovate the Old Town Hall for programming. The building was featured in Rockwell's famous "Stockbridge Main Street At Christmas" and in "Springtime in Stockbridge" but has not been regularly used since the town offices moved to the former Stockbridge Plain School in 2008. 
State Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier was able to acquire $34,000 for the Berkshire Athenaeum to upgrade its accessibility; $15,000 to Goodwill Industries of the Berkshires Inc. for administrative support for the Tyler Street Lab; and $26,000 for acessibility upgrades for the Wild Acres Conservation Area in Pittsfield.
There's also $75,000 in funding from an amendment filed by Farley-Bouvier and state Rep. Paul Mark to study the feasibility of Pittsfield becoming an internet service provider. The study would examine if there is a market and Mayor Linda Tyer has said the city has the possibility to become the "hub" for the entire county's high-speed internet service.
Community Access to the Arts Inc. in Great Barrington also got $50,000 in the bill. 
Mark had also secured $100,000 for the Berkshire Opioid Task Force. That is the second year of funding for a partnership between the Berkshire County Sheriff's Office and the Berkshire Opioid Abuse Prevention Coalition.
The town of Peru and Windsor are both celebrating their 250th anniversaries and Mark secured $25,000 for each of them for celebrations.

Tags: fiscal 2020,   state budget,   

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In Cautious Song, Early Birds Proclaim Vernal Awakening

By Tor HanseniBerkshires columnist

Oh what a joy to see goldfinches in small feeding flocks dining on sunflower seeds provided in the porch feeders. It is time with a steel bristle brush to clear out last year's thistles and scrape away any rust clogging the tiny holes suited so well for their small bills.

What a treat to watch showy yellow and black males, their mottled feathers shifting to peak molt. Female goldfinches are overall more drab in softer hues of field grey-green but on the nest will be less obvious in camouflage. For several weeks ahead they wait until late spring to commence nest-building.

Their fleecy basket is woven securely in poplar trees with tight fibers to adjust for wind. Whether foraging on elm blossoms in the tall neighboring elm tree, or gleefully riding their parabolic flight path, their zesty songs are music to our ears.
As the prolonged cool of early spring on Mount Greylock delays the purple trillium bloom, guess who is a dapper chatterbox along a service road leading to solar grid installation? With new fallen snow still evident in the higher elevations in late April, these warblers are the first to greet me, soon to be followed by the full diversity of the 23 species, family Parulidae.
Calling a deliberate zizzizizzi-from sylvan edges of a wide clearing, a fleet burst of yellow and field marks of rufous in the head cap and bold red streaking on throat, breast, and belly is a male palm warbler (Dendroica palmarum). Watch for their constant tail wag. Eagerly they to flit and forage about mossy trunks and budding ground story, hopping and darting through fern and old decaying logs. These aerial acrobats cut deft sorties into the air to snag tiny flying insects stirring at last from winter's seclusion.
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