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Plans for a mountain-biking trail network would create a loop into New York State.
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Mountain Bike Club Wheels Out Vision for Trail Network

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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Bill McEwen, representing mountain biking club Purple Valley explains the plans to the Select Board on Monday night. 
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — A local group of mountain bikers is looking to build a trail network within and beyond Williamstown. 
Bill McEwen, representing Purple Valley chapter of the New England Mountain Bike Association, said about 9 to 10 million Americans are involved in the sport and that competitive clubs have sprung up at colleges and high schools.  
"We have a club at Williams College, and there's lots of activity in the region," he told the Select Board on Monday. "Over the last few years, there have been huge improvements to mountain biking, to mountain bikes specifically, which would be making them safer, more accessible to more people and just generally like a lot more fun."
The club has recently been awarded a $17,500 grant from the International Mountain Bicycling Association to "build something world class," said McEwen. 
Discussions began with the landowners the trail would cross — Williams College and the town — about a year ago and the club was established at Williams. 
McEwen said talks and a memorandum of understanding has advanced but are not finalized yet. He said the hope was to lock in the copy in the coming days and weeks. The group will also be speaking with Williamstown Rural Lands, Berkshire Natural Resource Council and New York State as the proposed trail would pass over into Berlin State Forest. All have expressed interest in the project, he said.
"The first question that Dan [Gura] and I asked was where should we do this, and we looked at a few different locations in consultation with Andrew [Groff, community development director]  and with the town," McEwen said.
They reviewed three sites: Rattlesnake reservoir and the Dome, both on the north side of town and into Vermont; and Berlin, to the west over the Taconic Ridge. 
The Berlin loop was deemed the best as the soil is conducive to construction, its easily accessible from town by either bike or car, there's already multiple parking areas at trailheads and the parcel is some 800 acres. There were also fewer landowners and conservation restrictions.
"You can see it's only a five-mile ride to get to the trailhead, which is pretty feasible on a bicycle if you're a mountain biker and it's a short drive as well," said McEwen. "A couple of other things that are notable about Berlin is that it's used for backcountry skiing in the wintertime. And this is sort of a similar seasonal activity that I think complements the skiing use quite well."
He said a trail system would be in line with the town's 2016 open space plan that calls for dedicated public bike trails and a pump track. (Purple Valley is also seeking $75,000 in Community Preservation Act funds toward a renovation of the town's 20-year-old skate park.)
A survey that garnered about 80 responses found that more than half the respondents bike several times a week and some 71 percent were favorable to the development of a trail. 
But mountain biking is "not so great," McEwen said. "We have a lot of hiking trails, 50-plus miles in town, but there are zero officially sanctioned mountain bike trails purposely built by the town, which is very, very rare."
He said mountain biking trails can range in size from 5-mile to 50-mile loops, mostly maintained by volunteers with aid from professionals. The group's looking to start at about five miles but envisions a future network of 50.
"We're looking at doing five to 10 signed trails. A trail can be 1-2-3 feet wide — a very narrow strip — about 20 miles of total network and the network will support a full range of abilities," McEwen said. "So that's absolute beginner cyclists all the way up to a very advanced riders."
In response to questions, he confirmed that the trails going up the mountain would have switchbacks and that a five-mile trail could be compared to a mile of straight hiking trail. 
The club had been surprised to get the IMBA grant, with McEwen putting their odds at 1 in 100. 
"This is kind of group that sets the standard for mountain bike construction. So they come into communities and they build something that's truly world class," he said. 
"We are not requesting anything besides your engagement and your questions to provide you with as much transparency and help answer any concerns that you might have before coming back with an actual proposal," he said. 
Select Board member Randall Fippinger wanted to confirm that the town would not be on the hook for funding and maintenance, and also questioned how it could affect the town's "super passionate" hikers and if they had been consulted. 
McEwen said the idea would be to have the bike trails separate from the hiking trails. 
"One of the things that are appealing about Berlin ... if you look at the parcel, especially that owned by the college, there are actually hiking trails in there," he said. "So you have this kind of distinct use ...
Club member Marc Mandel said, while there are hiking trails that don't allow mountain bikes, like mountain bike trails, anyone can walk on a mountain bike trail ... if anything, it will be additive to the hiking trail network as well."

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Williamstown Town Meeting Passes Progress Pride Flag Bylaw Amendment

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff

Mount Greylock sophomore Jack Uhas addresses town meeting on Thursday as Select Board member Randal Fippinger looks on.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — By a ratio of nearly 2-to-1, town meeting Thursday passed a bylaw amendment to allow the Progress Pride flag to be flown on town flag poles.
The most heavily debated article of the 40 that were addressed by the meeting was decided on a vote of 175-90, amending a flag bylaw passed at last year's town meeting.
Mount Greylock Regional School sophomore Jack Uhas of the middle-high school's Gender Sexuality Alliance opened the discussion with a brief statement, telling the 295 voters who checked into the meeting that, "to many, the flag is a symbol that, in our town, they belong."
The speakers addressing the article fell roughly in line with the ultimate vote, with eight speaking in favor and four against passage.
Justin Adkins talked about his experience as, to his knowledge, the only out trans individual in the town of about 7,700 when he moved to Williamstown in 2007.
"Most people, when I moved here, had never met a trans person," Adkins said. "Today, that is not the case. Today, many people in this room are free to say who they are.
"LGBTQ-plus youth still face a world where their basic being is questioned and legislated. … Flying a flag is, really, the least we can do."
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