PITTSFIELD -- Springside Park's 237 acres of mostly undeveloped fields and woodland fit against the residential neighborhoods of Pittsfield's north end. It is safe to say that because of this, there are far more trees and squirrels in the north end than in any other Pittsfield precinct, and Springside is Pittsfield's largest park.
"It takes up roughly 37 percent of Ward 1A and contains just over 10.5 miles of trails," said Jim McGrath, open space and natural resource program manager for the city, after checking with Ryan Grennan, GIS Coordinator.
These walking, hiking, running, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing trails bring in casual visitors, he said, often the park's neighbors who think of it as their back yard, and also Pittsfield High School cross country teams' home course for racing and practices. And students at Reid Middle School, abutting and merging with the park without fence or hedgerow, can't help but think of Springside as their schoolyard.
The engineering department has created a park map with assistance from Pittsfield High School girls' cross-country coach Teresa Apple, who used her GPS on the trails, he said. (To get a map, contact the Community Development office at city hall.)
In late fall, community activist, local historian and writer Joe Durwin led an ‘unconventional park stroll' through Springside, outlining the way Pittsfield's largest park has evolved over 103 years of land acquisitions. He led about 30 people through the Dark Pines, past the old reservoir, to open fields.
Listening to, and joining conversations as we walked, I learned that several walkers were thrilled to learn how close the beautiful park and its system of trails is. Walking through these woods carpeted with fallen leaves and across the fields with frosty goldenrods, milkweeds, and asters is always a delight on a pleasant late fall morning, with a chill in the air.
On winter days, the Dark Pines, including both white pine and hemlock offer a deep woods feeling and a comfortable windbreak, a change of scenery. To find them, follow trails south and west from the softball complex on Benedict Road.
One of our favorite activities while exploring Springside in winter, especially following a soft snow, is following animal tracks and attempting to "read" where a fox, rabbit, or squirrel has gone.
And when we find fox tracks, almost always in a straight, deliberate line rather than helter-skelter as dog's tracks often are, we begin asking questions. Are there other tracks? A rabbit or squirrel perhaps? Is the fox following the other tracks?
When the snow gets deeper, we put on our snowshoes and go for a spin.
"Cross country skiing and snowshoeing takes place regularly throughout the winter months," McGrath said.
A recent trek along the trails convinced me: Snowshoe tracks were easy to follow, keeping me on the unmarked trails.
If you go ...
What: Springside Park
Where: 874 North St., Route 7 in Pittsfield.
The main entrance is a paved driveway off of North Street, with views toward the south and west, including sunsets (occasionally spectacular) over the Taconic Range. Trail access begins behind the Springside House and the dirt road veering left off of the driveway; behind the Softball Complex on Benedict Road; the ball field and playground on Springside Avenue, and also past the nearby wading pond, now a cattail marsh, just west of the playground. With a map in hand or on your computer, you will find paths beginning along and at the end of most streets that border the park.
When: Daily, year-round, dawn to dusk