PITTSFIELD — Backers of a mountain biking course in Pittsfield are ready to raise money. But, opponents are coming forward to say the project isn’t right for Springside Park.
Three bike associations have raised $5,000 to fund designs through a trail-building company, Powder Horn, and have set out to raise $400,000 for remaining project costs, a proponent told the Parks Commission on Tuesday.
“We are diving into the fundraising aspect of things right now,” said Alison McGee, president of the New England Mountain Bike Association’s Berkshire chapter.
PITTSFIELD — The wheels are turning on a project to build a bike skills park in the heart of the Berkshires.
Design plans are expected to be completed this week or next, she said. Commissioners, who have approved the concept for the project, are set to review the plans at their March meeting. Proponents say it would feature courses where mountain bikers can hone their riding skills and would become a regional attraction as the first amenity of its kind in the area.
They hope to begin construction this spring or summer.
Dan Miraglia, who lives in Pittsfield, isn’t on board. He told commissioners he reviewed a master plan for Springside Park and claimed that the bike course conflicts with the area’s designation as a passive-use park.
“I feel that the mountain bike course will clearly change and compromise the natural surroundings of the historical nature of the park for passive recreation,” he said.
The commission should pause the proposal until in-person public meetings resume, allowing those who aren’t used to Zoom to voice their opinions on the project, according to Gene Nadeau, a former parks commissioner and project opponent. Nadeau told The Eagle that he agrees that Springside is meant for passive recreation and believes that there are more suitable locations.
Others also question the location — down an access road behind a row of trees separating the North Street park from the Reid Middle School athletic fields.
Pittsfield native Royal Hartigan has expressed concern about the environmental impacts of the course and mountain biking generally on trails in Springside Park. He urged the commission to setwaside the proposal and protect the park as a place for the public to commune with nature in the heart of the city.
“My final plea to you, for now, is that you seriously consider the uniqueness of Springside Park, what it means for a public trust, that nature and life really are as ends in themselves, not for development for some external gain,” Hartigan said.
Commissioner Cliff Nilan described Hartigan as a longtime advocate for Springside Park who now lives in Eastern Massachusetts. When the Miller family gave the land for Springside Park, it did so for the purposes of education, Nilan said.
“In some ways, we’ve gotten away from that,” he said. But, he said he doesn’t think the course would run afoul of the family’s wishes.
If it did, the city wouldn’t have seen other additions and capital improvements at the park, like the Little League field, said Jim McGrath, the city’s parks and open space manager.
Mark Miller said his father, uncle and grandfather, who granted parkland to the city, would view the proposal as a special interest venture in a public park.
“It’s designed for everyone’s use with trails for passive recreation, walking your dogs, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, jogging, kids playing and getting lost,” said Miller, who opposes the project but said he was speaking as an individual and not on behalf of his family.
“Not for an interest group that is interested in selling bikes, interested in promoting mountain biking. ... This is an industry, and it should be regarded as that,” he said.
But, the city previously has welcomed special interest groups into public parks, citing the example of ballfields and playgrounds, McGrath told The Eagle. The city has reason to be proud of those recreational amenities. He said he believes that the project aligns with the city’s efforts to make Pittsfield a regional draw for recreation.
McGee has said the bike skills course would be open to the public at no cost. Groups backing the project, including the Berkshire Mountain Bike Training Series, the Shire Shredders and the New England Mountain Bike Association, would be responsible for funding, maintenance and upkeep.
No Conservation Commission review is needed. The roughly 1-acre site is more than 100 feet away from wetlands and is not home to any protected endangered species, according to McGrath.