PITTSFIELD — Members of the Board of Parks Commission have voiced their approval for placing a proposed mountain biking skills course and pump track in Springside Park, though that approval won’t be formalized until the site passes a wetlands and buffer area review by the Conservation Commission.

The potential wetlands impact arose during Tuesday night’s Parks Commission meeting at the Ralph J. Froio Senior Center. Parks Commission Chair Anthony DeMartino said the panel recently had received a letter from Conservation Agent Rob Van Der Kar indicating that the course’s proposed site at the softball and little league field behind Reid Middle School places it very near a buffer zone — the 100 feet surrounding a wetland.

DeMartino said the commission would refrain from taking any formal action on the plan for the course until the Conversation Commission had time to review the location.

Though no vote was taken on the plan, the course inched closer to reality when DeMartino asked each commissioner whether each was “comfortable with Springside Park as a location, period.” All five commissioners indicated they were OK with settling the course in Springside Park.

Agreeing to place the course in the park is a contentious move by the commission. Over the past several months, commissioners have been inundated with letters, emails and, oftentimes, extensive public comment at meetings by proponents and opponents of the course.

The period for public comment ended with the July 15 public meeting at Springside Park and the Berkshire Athenaeum, according to Park, Open Space and Natural Resource Program Manager Jim McGrath.

“The commission has been receiving public comment for a number of months,” McGrath said. ”I’m not certain if there’s anything to be gained from additional comment.”

One of the main sticking points for opponents is the potential impact the course will have on the natural landscape of the park. The Parks Commission’s recommendation that the Conservation Commission review a request for determination of applicability might help assuage those concerns.

As part of the RDA process, the Conservation Commission will review whether the Wetlands Protection Act applies to the current location proposed for the course. Under Massachusetts law, work done in or within the buffer zone of a wetland requires a permit from the local Conservation Commission. That permit typically greenlights a project but adds a series of conditions for construction in order to protect the integrity of the wetland and surrounding area.

DeMartino said that Van Der Kar’s letter also reminded the commission that if the project disturbs more than an acre of topsoil, the project also will need a stormwater management permit from the city.

“My understanding was that it wasn’t a wetland, but I respect the need for making certain of that,” said Alison McGee, president of the New England Mountain Bike Association’s Berkshire chapter. McGee brought the proposal to construct a bike skills park at Springside Park to the Parks Commission last year. “As we’ve been saying throughout the proposal, we do care about the environment.”

Organizers have hopes for an accessible space that will be a draw to local children and intermediate or advanced riders. The plan is to add an asphalt pump track, flow zone, skills course and dual slalom course in phases, building up the facility as local interest and use increases.

Once the Conservation Commission has made its ruling, the project will return to the Parks Commission, where, McGrath said, the next big step will be constructing a memorandum of understanding between the city and the New England Mountain Bike Association, which is the regional group supporting the local Berkshire chapter’s work on this project.

Commissioner Simon Muil said he believed a private-public partnership between the city and bike association would be absolutely vital for the success of the course and the park as a whole.

“My feeling with parks in general is, the way for parks to survive is with the community taking ownership of the park,” Muil said. “I think that the opportunity of this private-public piece could increase public participation in the park.”

Still to iron out are the issues of insurance liability sharing for the course, a plan for how upkeep will be handled and what the course of action would be for decommissioning the course if it were to fall into disrepair or out of use.

“There’s some lengthy conversation yet to come on the specifics [of the memorandum],” McGrath said. “We’re not looking to rush this, we’re looking to get it right.”

Meg Britton-Mehlisch can be reached at mbritton@berkshireeagle.com.

Pittsfield Reporter

Meg Britton-Mehlisch is the Pittsfield reporter for The Berkshire Eagle. Born and raised in Kansas City, Missouri, she previously worked at the Prior Lake American and its sister publications under the Southwest News Media umbrella in Savage, Minnesota.

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