Brian Sullivan: Pontoosuc Beautiful, but silent
There have been some stellar late afternoons and early evenings recently, and on some of those days we have found ourselves sipping on iced coffees in the Pontoosuc Lake parking lot on Hancock Road. With Mount Greylock looming in the distance to the north, the view of the lake is pretty spectacular.
I love to peer past and through the shaven lower trunks of the evergreens. The trees dot the steep hill that leads down to the former public beach. It’s usually quiet there. A few people sometimes can be seen sitting at the picnic tables, which I think date back to World War II -- the tables, not the people.
But what used to be a vibrant and energized part of the city’s summer scene is now a very dormant location. Just like our city parks, which used to be brimming on summer afternoon with scores of neighborhood children, the only sound you hear now is that of a slight summer breeze taking its time going from here to there.
It’s been decades since Pontoosuc’s pulse could be heard clearly on a warm summer afternoon. If you weren’t swimming and socializing there, then you were probably at Onota Lake. Both were places to be at, both were places to be seen.
And it was all for free. Even the little kids had learn-to-swim lessons in the mornings at Pontoosuc. The swimming area was guarded on three sides by a dock, and the big prize was the smaller dock about 10 yards out from the regular dock. It featured a diving board, and the older kids relished that small piece of floating property. Being a summer lifeguard wasn’t a bad way to make a few bucks during the break from school.
It’s all gone now, and I really don’t know why.
Unlike its cousin, Onota Lake, which two centuries ago looked pretty much like it does now, the body of water that is Pontoosuc was actually two bodies of water when the first settlers arrived here and formed Pontoosuc Plantation. Listed by the state at about 500 acres, Pontoosuc was nothing more than two 10-acre ponds when the settlement came into being.
In time, however, the mills built on the water needed more water energy to operate their machinery, so they built the dams that ultimately increased the size of the lake. It was a win-win for all.
The volunteer group that now watches over Pontoosuc Lake is led by Lee Hauge, who chairs the board of directors that is the Friends of Pontoosuc Lake. Hague came to Pittsfield from his native California in 1962, and is a retired General Electric engineer. He loved the area and stayed, having resided over the years in Lanesborough. He can recall the days when the public swarmed to the steep hill that towered over the public beach.
Said Hauge, "Our charter says the lake is for the use of all citizens. We would have no trouble with people going back to using that area for swimming."
Hauge said Pontoosuc Lake
is pretty close to being an even
split between Pittsfield and Lanesborough. The city and town, he said, have been in harmony over sharing costs that involve the lake’s health.
"The county used to own it," said Hauge, who noted that there are 30 lake associations in Berkshire County. "But when county government ceased to exist the state didn’t really want it. They didn’t want or need another lake to maintain. We do what we can."
The draw down of the lake and the use of herbicides for weed control are a couple of duties the organization oversees.
"It can be a battle," said Hauge, "but it helps that Pittsfield and Lanesborough work together well on lake issues. We still have projects. Like after a thunderstorm the gravel from the dirt roads gets into the water. Those kind of things we keep working on."
The lake memories, though, are classics. The ferry boat "Sheila," which helped bring town citizens who didn’t own cars to Main Street to shop at Simon’s Market in Lanesborough, the Women’s Club that was located on the island in the middle of the lake that burned to the ground, and even the diving horse that long ago entertained throngs who watched from the shore.
Pontoosuc Lake. A grand old dame, for sure, with hopefully still a lot of stories left to tell.
Brian Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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