Pittsfield Parks Commission OKs Bicycle Skills Track
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The proposed bike skills track at Springside Park got the vote of approval from the Parks Commission on Tuesday.
The commissioners voted unanimously to approve the design of the track as presented and its location, pending the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the commission and the Berkshire Chapter of the New England Mountain Biking Association.
"I think this moves the process along," said Commissioner Clifford Nilan, who had initially suggested a phased project.
Parks, Open Space, and Natural Resource Program Manager James McGrath said he anticipated that the chapter's President Alison McGee and her design team "would be working very closely with the city" and that tweaks may need to be brought back before the commission. That will include a decision on the fencing and permitting for a stormwater system, but he thought the result should "stay fully within the intent and spirit of what has been approved."
"I'm bringing it up because I want to be very clear that I think there would be a final design brought before this commission."
Chairman Anthony DeMartino felt that the questions raised by opponents and the commission had been satisfactorily answered.
"One thing that we truly agreed to is, in principle, that Springside Park is right fit and location for the pump track," he said, noting the commission had looked at a number of locations in the city and in the park itself.
The city solicitor has opined that the addition of the pump track to the public park is not a change in use but the city has reached out to the state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs for its opinion on Article 97, which disallows altering use of conserved land. The park already has recreational facilities, including ballfields, a basketball court, a pavilion and playgrounds. In the past, the more than 230-acre park also had a day camp and a petting zoo.
Opponents of the track have argued that it will destroy the natural beauty and ecology, create heavy traffic that would ruin the road and disrupt enjoyment of the park, and cause severe damage to a treasured natural resource in the heart of the city. They have urged the commission to reject or relocate the skills track.
"I've seen the destruction of the park's five different habitats due to the vandalism of mountain biking, dogs and ATV or RV use of the trails not to mention the mismanagement and violation of the multiple-use park policy or shared recreational use that has allowed mountain bikers to take over the park to the exclusion and the safety of Springside Park visitors," said Victor Capelli of Kingston, N.Y., expanding on a letter outlining his concerns that was sent to the commissioners. "The resistance to any progressive ecological protection of the I park can only ascribe to a lack of the commission's education, training and indifference to managing an urban forest for the ecology and the public community at large."
Capelli, a field ecologist with Cornell University, accused the commission of underhandedness and secrecy in giving preferential treatment to a group privatizing a portion of the park.
"I want to be very clear, and I've made this clear before, city property in Springside Park has been and will remain always city property," Martino said. "In no way is it being privatized."
He added that during his tenure there has, to his knowledge, been zero complaints brought to the commission about biking in the park.
In other business, the commission nominated and voted Nilan as the next chairman of the commission. He will preside at the January meeting.
• The commission approved the Berkshire Pride Festival for a June 4 at Springside and snowshoe events on Saturday morning between January and March for the Berkshire Running Center. The center's Shiobbean Lemme said they did a trial last year but there was a lack of snow and possibly use of the term "race" scared some people off. This year, they are planning snow tours and were asking for a window to allow flexibility for snowfall.
• McGrath and Recreation & Special Events Coordinator Becky Manship are writing up a more formal process for people to be on the agenda. Martino said people can still send letters to be read but a more formal process for being on the agenda will allow the commission and the community advance notice and more information on the speaker's presentation.
Manship reported that the virtual tree lighting went well and is still available to watch on Pittsfield Community Television. The North Pole Calling program last week had 13 volunteers who called more than 180 children. "My friends, that is a record," she said. "We have not had those numbers since 2013. Last year, we had 105."
McGrath said the Halloween Parade (which was canceled because of the pandemic two years now) and the calling program are two of the oldest continuing events in the city. "The North Pole Calling program has been going on consistently 75 years," he said. "It must be one of the longest standing Santa calling programs in the country."
They also reported that the scrapbooks dating back to the 1940s left at Springside House are now in the hands of the Local History room at the Berkshire Athenaeum, which is restoring them and digitizing them here
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