PITTSFIELD — The new state parks chief wants to champion improvements and increase access to the commonwealth's outdoor playgrounds, including several in Berkshire County.
Department of Conservation and Recreation Commissioner Leo Roy said he subscribes to the Baker-Polito administration philosophy of continued investment in the state parks system because it enhances the quality of life for Massachusetts residents.
"They are our natural world and also our history," he said. "We are very fortunate to have the mountains to the west and ocean to the east."
Roy has been on the job since Dec. 9 and succeeded interim DCR Commissioner Daniel Sieger, who had replaced Carlos Sanchez.
Roy has been touring state parks from Cape Cod to the Berkshires, recently stopping in Pittsfield and Northern Berkshire to assess the needs of local park supervisors. The visit also included overnight winter camping in a cabin at Mohawk Trail State Forest in nearby Charlemont.
"It's important for me to see the facilities — my leadership is out in the field," he said in an Eagle interview at DCR Western Regional Headquarters on South Street.
Roy praised the most recent upgrades completed last fall at seven Berkshire state parks totaling more than $850,000, especially at October Mountain State Forest in Lee and Washington. Temporary repairs were made to the one-mile steep section of Schermerhorn Road — the only vehicular access from the Lee side — which has been closed since Tropical Storm Irene blew through in 2011 and washed out an already deteriorating thoroughfare.
The closure irked local sportsmen, off-road vehicle enthusiasts and those seeking access to the park's north easterly trails and waterways.
Roy said DCR will ensure Schermerhorn stays open.
"That road is in tough shape, but we have work later this year for the drainage," he said.
The permanent repairs estimated at $525,000 are scheduled to be completed before summer, DCR officials said.
Roy's devotion to the great outdoors goes back to his childhood in Colchester, Vt., near the Canadian border, where he camped and fished as a youngster. He has parlayed his love of nature in a nearly 25-year environmental career in the public and private sector.
Roy served as Massachusetts Undersecretary of Environmental Affairs from 1992 to 1997 and has been active in several nonprofit environmental organizations, serving on the Board of the Environmental Business Council of New England and as chairman of the Corporate Wetlands Restoration Partnership.
Prior to returning to the public sector, Roy spent more than 15 years as an environmental consultant. Roy worked for state and municipal governments, colleges and universities, airport and port authorities, and private corporations and developers.
He plans to use his experience to preserve ecologically sensitive lands and waterways for the benefit of DCR managed property.
"Sometimes people forget there is a 'C' in our name and there has to be a balance between conservation and recreation," he said.
Under Roy's direction, DCR looks to better its working relationship with the Division of Fisheries & Wildlife, Department of Agriculture and other state environmental agencies. He wants to forge more relationships with private groups devoted to hiking, fishing, hunting and off-road vehicle use.
"If an organization wants to partner with us, we can pair our resources," he said.
Last winter, a number of organizations and individuals were willing to help with trail enhancement at October Mountain and Pittsfield — the two largest state forests in Massachusetts. The offers came during a pair of DCR public input meetings on the condition of both parks' trail systems and how they could be improved.
A draft plan based, in part, on comments received during those gatherings, and other input sessions for other Western Massachusetts state parks will be reviewed at a public meeting in the spring, according to DCR officials.
Completed and planned repairs/upgrades to state parks in Berkshire County for 2015-16
Beartown State Forest
• Reconstructed 900 linear feet of Benedict Pond Road.
• Repaired the handicap-accessible parking facilities at the beach and the concrete sidewalk servicing the beach bath house.
• Installed 4 gates allowing park staff to keep large sections of Beartown open to the public into the late fall and early winter.
October Mountain State Forest
• Temporary repairs to Schermerhorn Road from Roaring Brook Road in Lee to the road to Felton Pond in Washington. Funds and permits are in place for a complete reconstruction scheduled for this spring, to be completed by July 1.
Pittsfield State Forest
• The northerly side of Berry Pond Circuit Road was repaired from the gate at Lulu Pond to the top on the hill at the Taconic Skyline Trail crossing. All failed drainage culvert were replace and the road patched.
• The Taconic Skyline Trail from Tower Road north was rebuilt by approximately 1,800 feet.
• Installation of three parking spaces at the West Street gate in Pittsfield and the reconstruction of a drainage culvert on West Street in Hancock (spring 2016)
• Repaired the small parking lot off Brickhouse Road in Hancock. Additional work planned this spring on the access road to the area.
Mount Greylock State Reservation
• Two gates were installed for better access to the park's southern section of the park: Jones Nose parking area and another higher on the mountain.
• Shoulder and ditch repair was completed throughout Rockwell Road.
Savoy Mountain State Forest
• Cabin Road was reclaimed and repaved.
• Gate at the headquarters parking lot was reset to function properly.
Mohawk State Forest
• The main entrance road was patched.
Natural Bridge State Park
• This spring, chain link fencing replacement, repair to the wood stairways and walkways, and upgrade to the trail to improve handicap accessibility.