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Work is expected to begin this summer on the south side of Pontoosuc Lake Park.
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Phase 1 of Pontoosuc Lake Park Improvements Planned for South Side

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — After decades of planning, the city hopes to break ground on Phase 1 of Pontoosuc Lake Park's revitalization this summer.

The Parks Commission last week approved an updated design for the project that has been awarded a $500,000 matching grant from the state Executive Office of Energy Environmental Affairs. 

Commissioners spoke fondly of the vision.

"These plans incorporate all the features that the public had the input in, that we had input in," Anthony DeMartino said.

"Both sides incorporate all the features that we hope to have and will have at some point, as far as accessibility and the different variety of activities that we seek to have. It's just a matter of the timeline of getting them all funded in and ultimately constructed."

Work will begin on the south side of the park. 

Pontoosuc Lake Park was acquired by the city in 1913 and has not received substantial improvements since the 1960s. Historic pictures of the park show beach facilities, ferry boats, and large slides. 

It is part of a long-range open space and recreation plan for the city that was developed in the early 2000s and a master plan that was endorsed by the commission in 2022. There were five public hearings leading up to this point. 

"What we're trying to do is design the whole park ... and then we will determine based on the availability of the cash that we have, we're going to carve out and define what Phase 1 construction looks like," Park, Open Space, and Natural Resource Program Manager James McGrath explained.

"And phase one is something that we're looking to kick off in July. This project has to be completed by June 1, 2025, so we're speeding along the next big pushes for permitting."

He explained that the group wanted to run plans by the commission to make sure it is fully aware of what is happening, adding that it has been reviewed with city staff and "we feel like this is in a good place."

Doug Serrill, landscape designer at Berkshire Design Group, said the plans are influenced by the legacy of the park and feedback that was provided through public outreach focused on maintenance, accessibility, safety, the ability to access water for swimming, and passive and active places within the park.

On a conceptual level, the team looked at the south and north sides of the park, ultimately with the north side design leaning towards active use and the south side leaning towards passive use. They would also like to create a path to connect the two sides, as there is not a current connection.

Improvements to the south side include:

  • transforming the current grass path to a paved promenade with a boardwalk around the wetland area
  • a gathering spot and overlook
  • improving the health of the white pine trees
  • some clearing of the west side to improve the views
  • repairing the upper parking lot
  • adding an accessible path that will come down to the boat parking lot and connect to the accessible path
  • benches and picnic tables

"Largely speaking, working to make the south side more of a passive area for recreation and not so much water access and then working to improve the wetlands and stabilizing shoreline along this area that's eroded over time and of course, the wetlands have developed since the park's heyday," Serrill explained.

Improvements to the north side include:

  • work on the retaining wall that has spillage issues
  • adding a swimming area and floating dock
  • a changing room with a basic outdoor shower and port-o-potty 
  • enhancing accessibility to the water with stairs and a pathway
  • picnic tables and seating
  • an accessible kayak and canoe launch

Serrill said the vision is to minimize the amount of maintenance necessary for a changing facility while offering something that will help families transition from swimming to picnicking and other activities.

"The north side is really the prime area to enhance for swimming activities and kind of water access," he said.

There was a request to add a small swimming access point and a footpath along the western side for long-distance swimmers but this is not being promoted for swimming in the same way that the north side is.

The south side will likely receive the first phase of construction, the project being permitted as a whole and constructed in a phased approach. The city has about $675,000 at the moment for that side of the park and a boardwalk could cost as much as $300,000.

Phase 2 will work on the north side, replacing the crumbling south end of the retaining wall with a sloped sandy area and connecting a ramp to the accessible walkway.

Planners would like the area protected for swimming from boaters while incorporating picnic tables and passive uses in the space.

Serrill said the plans are in a draft phase and meetings will be scheduled with the Conservation Commission to get input on the shoreline plantings, wetland conservation, and wetland enhancements.

McGrath explained that the current budget allows the most impact on the south side, working on the accessible pathways from the parking lots, the promenade, the boardwalk, some stabilizing improvements along the bank, and a couple of additional handicap parking spaces.

"This is where we want folks to start their visit to the park and we need to make sure that we're accommodating them," he said.

He pointed to the notion of "value engineering," or looking into cost-saving opportunities as they go along. 

The important thing is that there is a plan that is fully designed, has costs around it, and is permitted, he added, and the city will continue to advocate for and seek additional funds and the full realization will be seen in the next several years.

Commissioner Cliff Nilan said this is "long overdue and a major, nice project."

Tags: parks commission,   Pontoosuc,   

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