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Berkshire Bike Path President Marjorie Cohan cuts the ribbon opening the new Pittsfield extension of the rail trail on Saturday with Mayor Linda Tyer and state and local officials.
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State Reps. Paul Mark, Tricia Farley-Bouvier and John Barrett III.
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Berkshire Bike Path President Marjorie Cohan
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State, Local Officials Cut Ribbon for Pittsfield Rail Trail Extension

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff
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Mayor Linda Tyer welcomes attendees at Saturday morning's opening of the Pittsfield extension of the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail. The bike path now runs from Crane Avenue in Pittsfield north to Lime Street in Adams. 

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Bikers, joggers, and skaters can rejoice because Pittsfield is now connected to the county's hallmark of outdoor recreation, the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail.

Nearly 100 people gathered at the trail on Saturday morning for a ribbon-cutting of the new leg that comes out behind Allendale Shopping Center.  

The 1.5-mile section has created a 14.2-mile path from Crane Avenue to Lime Street in Adams and cost about $2.3 million.

The goal of a county-long trail has been in the works for more than 20 years, with the first stretch of the rail trail being completed in 2001 between Cheshire and Adams.

Mayor Linda Tyer pointed out that the Pittsfield extension was in conversation when she was first elected to the City Council in 2004 and called for a quicker process with future construction.

"It is really a really momentous occasion for Pittsfield in particular but for the whole region because what we know is that outdoor recreation is part of the Berkshire experience and the rail trail is an important amenity to all of that," she said.

Tyer thanked Parks, Open Space, and Natural Resource Program Manager James McGrath for the many years that he has spent working on the bike path and outdoor amenities in the city.

"Myself and a number of individuals that are here this morning have been working for over a decade, and in some cases two decades, on local bike path planning, so it's been a long road, and seeing all of your excitement this morning is absolutely what keeps us motivated to further our work," he said.

"The vision that we've all been working toward is that of a true Berkshire bike path, it will invariably take us some time to realize that larger vision, and until we do I want you all to enjoy this new section of trail here and our city, this project represents Pittsfield's, our, ongoing commitment to providing quality, accessible recreational opportunities across our whole city."

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation, responsible for design and construction, the Berkshire Bike Path Council, and state legislators were recognized for the support they have given this project over the years.

District One Highway Director Francisca Heming explained how this leg is the gateway for the path to extend through the city.

"This new 1.5-mile extension that we're celebrating today is exciting because over the next few years other projects planned in the city basically will extend their shovel to carve an additional two miles closer to the downtown," she said.

"These upcoming projects include the like [McGrath] mentioned, the next Ashuwillticook extension to Merrill Road, which will be ready in construction next year, the 1.5-mile shared-use path along Merrill Road that is currently under design by MassDOT and is scheduled for construction in 2024, and, in 2026, the reconstruction of East Street to Silver Lake Boulevard, which will include inclusive bicycle and pedestrian accommodation on this complete redesign."

Another section is also being constructed in Williamstown with plans to extend it into North Adams and eventually south to meet at Lime Street.

Berkshire Bike Path President Marjorie Cohan said people thank her all of the time because they think she built the bike path but, in fact, it was a number of people and agencies that had to pull together to make it happen.

She explained that planning went back to the early 1990s, when there was a forward-thinking committee that created a bike path feasibility study on the former train tracks and pointed out that Heming was one of the engineers that designed the first part of the trail toward the end of millennium.  

The original council joined the vision for a countywide bike path that extends from Vermont to Connecticut, adding representatives from each community.

The first section opened in 2001 and soon after was expanded from Route 8 into Adams and was extended to Lime Street in 2016.

"Twenty-25 years later, the bike world has expanded beyond anybody's imagination, the parking lots along the trail are filled with enthusiastic users," Cohen said. "We see today the diversity of toddlers and 3- and 87-year-olds on electric bikes from all different kinds of bikes and all different kinds of riding."

Cohen also recognized McGrath for taking the first steps in continuing the bike path off the rail trail onto Merrill Road.

State Reps. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, Paul Mark, and John Barrett III also spoke at the ribbon-cutting.

Mark said he thought he was Tip O'Neill and had accomplished his own Big Dig when he secured $500,000 to help extend the trail as a first-term representative in 2012.

"I'm really excited to be here 10 years later, the reason I made this a priority in my first term, probably my first large earmarks in the Legislature, was because talking to [McGrath], talking to city officials at the time, talking to advocates at the time, they talked about the importance of diversifying our transportation portfolio," he said.

"Of making sure people have the access not just to cars, but to biking to walking to rollerblading to exercise to connecting this community of Pittsfield with the entire county, north to south, and eventually someday south all the way to the border, hopefully, as part of a vision of what this county can be. ...

"A hub for recreation, a hub for people who live here to work and play and take advantage of the beautiful scenery that we get to enjoy every single day and so when they asked me to file this, yeah, I made this one of my priorities, and I was really excited to have it happen."

Barrett said he is "probably" the only current elected official that was around in 1998 and spoke to the importance of outdoor recreation in bringing new people to the area as well as benefitting the locals.

"Outdoor recreation in Berkshire County is the future of this region and its success," he said. "It's going to attract people here but most importantly, it's going to attract younger people here who are going to be looking for jobs and creating new jobs here because they want outdoor recreation as part of it."

Farley-Bouvier spoke of her first impressions of the rail trail, thinking that this was how government worked best because it is accessible to everyone. She said she now understands that is incorrect and that the trail will not be accessible until it connects all neighborhoods in the city.

"This isn't accessible to everybody, this trail is not accessible to everybody and it won't be until we extend it through the entire city of Pittsfield," she asserted.

"Because unless you have that minivan unless you can put a bike rack on something you actually can't get here, and I gotta challenge you all and I'm gonna make us all feel a little uncomfortable for a second. Look around. Who is missing from this crowd? Right now. We have to connect all the neighborhoods in Pittsfield to this bike trail so that truly we can say that this bike trail is accessible to everybody."

Chris Cozzaglio of U.S. Rep. Richard Neal's office was also in attendance. As a 28-year-old local, he said he remembers the origins of the bike path and that projects like this are important by increasing access to beautiful places and giving people without cars other ways to get from point A to point B.

Before the ceremony, groups of cyclists from within the city and from as far as North Adams traveled to the destination on bikes.  

Tags: Ashuwillticook Rail Trail,   ribbon cutting,   

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