Mountain Biking

Pittsfield’s Parks Commission saw plans for a mountain bike course in Springside Park. It’s worried that the project will be too popular. – Berkshire Eagle

PITTSFIELD — For the past year, a proposed mountain bike course in Springside Park has faced pushback from a small but vocal group of residents over perceived environmental impacts and changes to the nature of the city park.

But, during a presentation of what was intended to be the final plans for the course, the Parks Commission has raised a new concern for the plans to overcome: their potential popularity.

Alison McGee, president of the Berkshire County chapter of the New England Mountain Bike Association, and Conroy, a park designer from The Powder Horn Trail Co., brought the latest version of the plans for the course to the Parks Commission on Tuesday night.

The proposed course has shifted in size and location throughout Springside Park over the past year, but the most recent layout places it north of Reid Middle School, in a 2.3-acre space currently occupied by an old ballfield and meadow. The course would have a rest area, parking lot with 22 spots and three handicap-designated spots, and four bike zones: an asphalt pump track, skills course, flow zone and dual slalom track.

Conroy said he thought the park would have a capacity of about 40 to 50 riders.

The course would be enclosed by a split-rail fence, to make sure that hikers don’t accidentally walk into the riding zone. Conroy said construction of the course could be completed in about 10 to 12 weeks.

Commission members said that, in general, they are excited about the proposal and ready to welcome a formalized mountain biking space to redirect riders away from the unauthorized courses that have been built throughout the park. Concerns over how much use the course would get kept the commissioners from taking a vote to accept or reject the plans.

“The one zone that I have a concern about is the dual slalom — the main reason being ‘build it and they will come,’” Chair Tony DeMartino said. “I think we see that at least weekly with how the park gets on the Tuesday night races.”

For years, Springside Park has hosted mountain bike races through the Berkshire Mountain Bike Training Series. The events draw large crowds to a largely unregulated portion of the park — the same area where the mountain bike course is being proposed.

The Conservation Commission recently heard from residents who are concerned that many of the race attendees are parking in wetland buffer zones — portions of the park that are maintained by the Conservation Commission in order to protect the integrity of the wetlands and water resources in the park.

The Conservation Commission voted unanimously during its Nov. 10 meeting to send a letter to the Parks Commission, asking that it address the parking situation.

“Parking is a big issue, and they shouldn’t park there,” Conservation Commission Chair and incoming Ward 4 City Councilor Jim Conant said during the meeting. He added that the Parks Commission should “have some type of enforcement, have some type of control.”

The Conservation Commission letter had yet to reach the Parks Commission on Tuesday night, and Dan Miraglia, a resident long opposed to the mountain bike course, and Open Space, Parks and Resource Manager Jim McGrath sparred over how big an issue parking is in Springside.

Miraglia said that when he has gone to observe the weekly races in the park, he regularly has seen “more than 100” cars parked “wherever they want.” He asked that the city come up with a dedicated parking and traffic plan before it moves forward with the mountain bike course.

“There are cars all across the city that are parked in a buffer zone of a regulated resource area,” McGrath said. “I don’t want anyone to think that cars parking on the side of a road adjacent to a wetland is an environmental abomination, because it isn’t.”

Commissioner Cliff Nilan said that while he was in favor of the project, the presentation hadn’t fully addressed his concerns.

“My thing is to build this huge, and I think it’s huge,” Nilan said. “I just think without us having the road, the traffic and having any plans designed — it’s just too big for me.”

With no consensus about how to move forward, the commission agreed to discuss parking and road maintenance issues with the city and reopen discussion of the plans Dec. 21, at its next meeting.

“I think this is something that could be a very, very positive addition to our park, but we need to make sure that we do it right,” DeMartino said.