Area outdoors enthusiasts seek better access, improvements to Pittsfield State Forest trails
PITTSFIELD — Local sportsmen and outdoor enthusiasts want a better a trail system at Pittsfield State Forest — some willing to help park staff upgrade the wooded pathways for hiking, hunting, cross-country skiing, off road vehicle use.
Nearly 40 people offered dozens of suggestions to improve the 94 miles of official trails and the 31 miles of unauthorized trails, within the 11,000-acre park, during a recent state-sponsored workshop.
"We should keep our best trails that are in good condition ... illegal or not," said Brad Herder of Pittsfield.
"Let's fix the ones we have, not make new ones," added Lanesborough resident Sean Koldys.
Herder and Koldys speaking for two of the six workshop groups gathered at the Berkshire region headquarters for the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation. DCR officials value and expect the public input to help them shape a formal trail management plan that will be unveiled and reviewed at another meeting by year's end.
"Pittsfield, more so than any other state park, is used by a variety of recreational users," said Paul Jahnige, DCR's greenways and trails program director.
"Trails are how we get you out to use our state parks," he noted. "We want you folks to do the talking."
DCR also wants people to speak up at Wednesday's trail management workshop for October Mountain State Forest, 6:30-8:30 p.m. at the DCR regional office on South Street. At 16,500 acres, Mountain is Massachusetts' largest state park spread out over four towns, the majority residing in Washington.
Years, of staff reductions and budget cuts, along with Mother Nature, have contributed to the lack of upkeep on many trails, according to DCR officials.
"Many trails have been channelized — partially washed out by rain runoff," Jahnige said.
In a slide-show presentation, he pointed to protruding tree roots, mud holes and exposed bedrock making some trails difficult to navigate and the need to repair simple wooden bridges over brooks and streams that cross the trails.
Last July's heavy rains also cut off safe access to the 13 campsites on Berry Pond, forcing Pittsfield State Forest officials to close four miles of the 6-mile Berry Pond-Circuit Road, until the washed out sections could be repaired. Work began in the late fall and should wrap up before the campang season resumes for Memorial Day weekend in late May, according to park supervisor, Chris Hajjar.
While separate state funds were set aside for the road work, resources for trail work remain scarce.
"There's not a lot of dollars available, but we're starting to put federal recreation money to use - but it's not nearly enough," Jahnige said.
Several trail users suggested free labor could help whip the trails into shape.
Volunteer your time, don't let DCR have to do it all," Koldys said,
"There's a lot of opportunity for volunteers ... that could help break down the red tape," added Ryan Aylesworth, of Richmond, founder of the newly formed Western Massachusetts Public Lands Alliance.
Off road vehicle enthusiasts called for better access to trails designated for motorized use, such as more parking near trail heads. Avid snowmobiler Randy Toth of Pittsfield wants more user-friendly routes by connecting certain trails.
"If you want to bring in families, you want a number of loop trails within Pittsfield State Forest," he said.
11,000: Acres in Pittsfield, Lanesborough, Hancock that comprise Pittsfield State Forest.
1,165: Monthly average use of Tranquility Accessible Trail, Pittsfield's most popular trail, based on summer/fall 2012 survey.
94: Miles of authorized trails; 31 miles of illegal trails.
49: Percentage of trails in good condition; 37 percent fair; 14 percent poor.
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