Berkshire County state forests to get trail improvements


PITTSFIELD — Hikers, mountain bikers, snowmobilers and other off-road vehicle users could see much-needed access and maintenance improvements at two Berkshire state park trail systems.

The Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation has unveiled draft plans to overhaul the dozens of miles of footpaths and rustic tracks for motorized and non-motorized vehicular use at Pittsfield and October Mountain state forests.

If finalized in the fall, the DCR looks to implement the plans — with some of the recommended improvements contingent on funding approval in the Legislature.

Nearly two years in the making, the trail system proposals are a combination of short- and long-term recommendations for the state forests — the two largest DCR parks in the state.

The two documents, which were released for public comment last week, outline the existing shape of the roughly 100 miles of trails in each park — one-third of which are currently illegal, according to Paul Jahinge, DCR's greenways and trails program director.

"About 16 percent are classified as being in poor condition — higher than the state overage of 9 percent," he said.

The proposals aim to improve signage, add parking areas to access the parks, enhance grooming of trails, close illegal trails that would be hard to maintain and negatively impact the environment, create new trails that connect to existing ones or improve the flow of pedestrian and off-road vehicular use.

Among the recommendations for both parks: increase staffing — especially at the 16,000 acre October Mountain, which has one year-round employee assisted by several seasonal staffers; hire a consultant to map out the revised off-road trails; make improvements in cooperation with hiking and off-road user organizations; create new trail maps, and find ways to halt use of illegal trails.

Under the Pittsfield plan, off-road trails would increase from 15 to 28 miles, with October Mountain staying at 32.

The proposal came just days prior to the July 4 weekend reopening of Schermerhorn Road, the only paved access into the heart of October Mountain from the park's nearby campground in Lee.

Seasonal access was restored following an estimated $520,000 in repairs and repaving this spring. DCR closed a steep one-mile section of the road from Woodland Road to the pond after heavy rains from Hurricane Irene in August 2011 washed out portions of the pavement, making it unsafe to travel.

"Schermerhorn is paved just past [the former] Camp Eagle and is a snowmobile road in the winter," said DCR Western Regional Director Michael Case.

A year ago, DCR spent almost $200,000 repairing storm damage and improving drainage along a section of Berry Pond Circuit Road in Pittsfield State Forest, seriously damaged by torrential rains from a late July thunderstorm in 2014. The paved road is key to reaching 13 prime, rustic campsites on Berry Pond.

The trail plans drew mixed reviews from a small but vocal gathering,of state park users during a recent meeting in Pittsfield.

"The vast majority of users in your state forests are mountain bikers, yet I see a vast amount of closures," said Dave Wallace, of Lenox. "Let's create new trails then close the old ones."

DCR officials countered Wallace's usage claim with surveys that find hikers are among the biggest state park users across the DCR park system.

Ruth Wheeler, of Lenox, called for one new trail on the west side of October Mountain between Felton Pond and Roaring Brook to improve the sight line from within the state park.

"People come to hiking trails with views and that's one thing lacking at October Mountain," she said.

Enhanced vistas are among the recommendations listed specifically for Pittsfield State Forest.

Whether hiking, biking or off-road vehicle riding, post specific trail information for all trail users, suggested trail rider Irwin Moiseff.

"When you put your signage up, label the trail according to difficulty," he said.

At a glance ...

Below is a sample of the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation recommendations for improved trail access and upkeep at Pittsfield and October Mountain state forests.

Pittsfield State Forest

• Enhance trail marking, signage and user information

• Repair/maintain priority trails and trail segments

• Block, close and restore trails and access points that are in poor condition, illegal and difficult to manage

• Authorize target trails as legal and add signage

• Enhance the off-road riding experience by developing new trail connections and parking area (if approved)

• Restore and create vista and destinations along the trail system

October Mountain State Forest (Lee, Washington, Becket)

• Enhance trail marking, signage and user information

• Repair/maintain priority trails and trail segments

• Expand/enhance parking areas to improve user access

• Repair and reopen Schermerhorn Road (completed June 29, 2016)

• Enhance the off-road riding Experience developing new off-road trails and 31 connections (if approved)

• Creating linkages and connections between existing nonmotorized trails.

Add your voice ...

The draft plan and accompanying maps are available for viewing on the DCR website. A hard copy can be reviewed at the DCR West Region Headquarters, 720 South St., Pittsfield, during business hours.

DCR will receive public comments on the draft plans until Aug. 1, either online or by writing to the Department of Conservation and Recreation, Office of Public Outreach, 251 Causeway St., 6th Floor, Boston, MA 02114.


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