Sunbathers at the old Pontoosuc Lake beach. Historical photos courtesy of the Pittsfield Parks & Recreation Department.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The city is in the early stages of developing a master vision for Pontoosuc Lake Park that better compares to the spot during its heyday.
Planning elements include a new public beach, improved picnic area facilities, and better handicap accessibility.
"There will be a comprehensive look at all of the park areas, the amenities within the park, and with particular emphasis on how the park is used, and how we want to see it used in the future," Park, Open Space, and Natural Resource Program Manager James McGrath said.
"We will take public inputs, and we will match that against the constraints within the park and will hopefully come up with a great future vision for Pontoosuc Park that we can all be proud of."
This project will not be a quick undertaking and is currently in the public input stage.
Berkshire Design Group out of Northampton has been hired by the city and is currently helping to develop a series of questions for a public input survey that is expected to be deployed in the next couple of weeks.
"This is a multiyear process that we're getting into, it's really important to make certain that we do a good job with the inputs, we don't want to miss anyone or anyone's ideas," McGrath said.
"So we're going to pay particular attention to making certain we hear from everyone through this process, because that's really critically important, this is a jewel of a city park and it really deserves to have the community's full attention and consideration for future planning."
In-person surveys will also be conducted with stakeholder groups that will be impacted by the project such as fishermen, boaters, neighbors, and outdoor groups.
Some $8,000 was reallocated from Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds for the undertaking after a previously awarded project was unable to be completed. The Community Preservation Committee voted in favor of this reallocation.
The park is contained on the north side by upper North Street and on the south side by Hancock Road.
McGrath said there are a number of things that need to be addressed in the master vision.
"There's a host of challenges with the park from constrained handicap accessibility, and that's certainly on the South side where the steep slopes and grades really don't favor good handicap accessibility, parking is an issue, we have state boat ramp at the on the south side and that's a very popular spot for launching boats into the lake, but we also just need parking for folks that are wanting to have a picnic or, or taking in the wonderful views," he said.
"I think we desire to establish a new beach area within the park, the former beach area is is not a viable option for the redevelopment of the swimming beach, in the presence of the channel, the very constricted channel in that location and we have a lot of folks that like to swim there so there are conflicts between boaters and swimmers that we're really trying to avoid."
From around the 1950s to the 1970s, there were large well-attended public beaches along with a bathhouse and swimming docks.
That location was deemed as wetlands and not able to maintain a sandy swimming beach, along with placement issues such as being next to the narrow channel.
McGrath said there is also a retaining wall on the north side of the park that needs to be fixed as well as issues with the tree canopy at the park.
Following the public input phase, Berkshire Design will move into the development of some concept plans for the Parks Commission to review and will then move towards creating the master vision.
When a master vision is completed and approved, the city will shop around in anticipation of going into construction and will then access opportunities for funding.
McGrath said there is not a price tag on the project yet because it is in an early stage.
"This should be a lot of fun., these are the types of things that I really get energized about, to sort of have people share their hopes and dreams for this a wonderful lakeside park which I think over the years has provided so many memories for so many families in our community," he told the Parks Commission last week.
"So it's time for Pontoosuc Park to get a facelift but we have to find out what people are thinking first, this won't be designed in [City Hall] Room 203, this will be designed within the community and with their thoughts."
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