Hike/bike trails finding rocky road through North Adams
NORTH ADAMS — By the end of this year, hike/bike trails could be constructed and in use from Adams to the North Adams line.
And by the end of 2017, another trail could be in use along the Hoosic River from western Williamstown east to the North Adams line.
But terrain, railroad challenges, and feisty neighborhoods have turned the process of finding a route through North Adams into a rocky road.
Several people involved in that process have said it will be years before construction can begin on the trails in North Adams, even if a path was agreed to early in 2016, which is unlikely.
"We're trying to find a route through the west end (of North Adams) that works, which is a tough nut to crack," said Lauren Gaherty, a senior planner at the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission. "The biggest challenges are landowner impact, avoiding the railroad, and avoiding having to cross Route 2. We're really struggling with the west end."
Another issue in North Adams is the steepness of some of the terrain, she added. The trail will need to be fairly level to allow its use by people of all abilities.
Williamstown and Adams are fortunate: Most of the trail route is owned by the town or college in Williamstown, and in Adams the trail follows an abandoned rail line, so the trail path is already level and mostly clear of hills and landowners.
Eventually, the trail will extend the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail that already travels through Lanesborough, Cheshire and part of Adams through Western Gateway Heritage State Park and Mass MoCA in North Adams and on to Williamstown along the Hoosic River to North Street. Meanwhile, Pittsfield is working on a project to extend the trail further to the south from Lanesborough near the entrance to the Berkshire Mall.
A 1.3-mile extension of the trail from Hoosac Road in Adams to Lime Street is under contract with work set to start in the early spring, according to Donna Cesan, director of Community Development in Adams.
The next section, from Lime Street to Hodges Cross Road near McCann Technical School in North Adams, is in the very early design phase with construction expected to begin in 2019, Cesan said.
According to Mike Nuvallie, director of Community Development for North Adams, the next section would run from McCann to Western Gateway Heritage State Park, but until a pathway is found for the west end, the city can't start seeking state and federal grant funding for either design or construction.
In the west end, city officials tried twice in 2015 to gain approval from a neighborhood through which the trail would have passed, but the neighbors were opposed to the project, citing fears about property values and crime.
"So we're back to the drawing board and looking at alternatives," Nuvallie said. "Any neighborhood backlash will delay the project, but if we get a route set, we could begin the design phase pretty quickly."
Gaherty said neighborhood concerns about declining property values and increasing crime rates along the hike/bike trail have been shown to be unfounded by a number of national studies of existing trails, and a survey of neighbors along the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail.
The data can be viewed in the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission website:
"Even real estate companies list the trail as an amenity that attracts homebuyers," she said.
In Williamstown, design of the trail is underway, with a public hearing set for January to review the plans at the 25 percent completion phase, said Andrew Goff, director of community development for the town. Construction could start as early as 2017.
Goff said the trail starts at North Street near the intersection with Syndicate Road. It will follow the Hoosic River east through Cole Field, across Cole Avenue and through the town's linear park. It would cross over the confluence of the Green and Hoosic rivers with a pedestrian bridge, travel through the park and corn fields and into the Spruces property, where it will eventually tie into the trail that travels through the west end of North Adams.
"It will help more people access the river and the trails back there," Goff said. "There are some great views that many folks don't get to enjoy."
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