Jim McGrath has a lot on his plate this spring. Pittsfield's parks and open space manager is currently overseeing five projects, all at or nearing completion, from the long-awaited extension into the city of the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail to a new park along the Housatonic River on the city's west side. Also in progress are a new dog park, renovations to the historic Springside House and improvements to the skate park near Pittsfield High School. Here is snapshot of each of those projects, or you can take a video tour here: 

Pittsfield Park, Open Space and Natural Resource Program Manager Jim McGrath hosts a whirlwind tour of the city’s park projects starting with the Skate Park, the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail extension, the Springside House renovation, Westside Riverway linear park on Dewey Avenue, and the Burbank dog park. 2021 is going to be a significant year in the evolution of the city landscape. Wednesday, May 5, 2021. (Ben Garver, The Berkshire Eagle)

East Street Skate Park

The second and final phase of construction on the skate park is underway, and will be complete in a matter of weeks. It will mark the completion of a project more than a decade in the making — designs were completed in 2011, McGrath said.

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Jim McGrath examines progress on the Skate Park next to Pittsfield High School on Appleton Avenue on May 5. McGrath believes that this will be the most extensive bike and skate park in Western Massachusetts.

City leaders pieced together funding through a mix of federal block grants and local capital spending. With $325,000 on hand for the second phase of construction, crews started work in March, adding several more features that McGrath said had been selected based on feedback from local skaters and bikers.

“The design that’s being constructed really was informed by the biker and skater community,” he said.

As the clock ticks closer to completion, McGrath said the city has begun coordinating with skate and apparel shop The Garden on a grand opening celebration. The date is yet to be determined.

Ashuwillticook Rail Trail

Work has begun on the 1.6 mile extension of the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail into Pittsfield. The extension is only dirt at the moment, but will eventually be a smooth, paved surface running just south of the Berkshire Mall to Crane Avenue.

“This new pathway has been under construction for several months and we anticipate it being completed in the spring of 2022,” McGrath said.

Benches and picnic tables will provide places to rest and enjoy the surroundings along the trail, and a new restroom facility will be placed in the newly constructed parking lot on Crane Avenue. The trail is an old railroad track on state-owned land, and the paved portion now runs through Cheshire, Lanesborough and Adams.

While construction to extend the trail to Pittsfield continues, McGrath said the city already has its sights set on the next extension — a shorter, 0.4 mile addition that will connect the trail to Merrill Road.

“We’re moving forward with another extension of this bike path,” said McGrath, while clarifying work on the subsequent extension is in the early design phase.

One day, McGrath said, the trail will be a regional draw extending across the whole of the Berkshires.

“We have high hopes that we can continue to extend the trail through Pittsfield and into south county, and eventually, the goal is to connect the trail into Connecticut,” he said.

Springside House

Efforts to restore the historic Springside House are moving along. The building was constructed in the 1850s as a residence, and once served as base of operations for the city’s now-defunct Parks & Recreation Department.

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Crews recently finished up work on the building’s foundation and drainage system, and will soon begin roof work and window repairs. The exterior was stripped and repainted, and McGrath said work rehabbing the interior of the Springside House should begin “within the next year or two.”

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Pittsfield Park, Open Space and Natural Resource Program Manager Jim McGrath visits the Springside House renovation. Extensive work on the exterior has rejuvenated the structure that is the centerpiece of Springside Park on North Street.

“What we hope is that this building can be a center of the community once again,” he said.

A 2014 study pegged the cost of restoring the facility in the city’s largest park at $2.2 million, and McGrath said funding has come from a range of sources, including a Community Preservation Act award and capital funds.

McGrath expects the project will be completed in 2025. The city hopes to attract a tenant to the space, and McGrath said it would be looking for an organization or group whose mission aligns with the broader goals and mission of Springside Park.

Westside Riverway Park

The Westside Riverway Park was completed last fall. The park represents an important outdoor community space for the city’s West Side neighborhood, said McGrath, providing a space for community events and outdoor education along with direct canoe access to the West Branch of the Housatonic River.

“For too long the river has existed in that neighborhood, but it was hard to access and hard to see,” he said. “So we are looking at this project as a way to encourage the neighborhood to see the water as a resource.”

Plans for the project began under former Mayor James Ruberto, with the goal of opening up riverside green space that had been blotted out by abandoned mill buildings.

The city spent years acquiring 10 residential parcels that now form the footprint of the park, then cleaning up the site using funding from the Environmental Protection Agency's Brownfields Program, setting the stage for redevelopment.

Now, the park along Dewey Avenue, designed by architects Tessa Kelly and Chris Parkinson, is home to greenspace, water access and an extended covered shelter, lending space for outdoor events and community gatherings.

“We wanted this park to be a little different than the other parks in the city, and I think we achieved that goal,” McGrath said.

Dog park at Burbank Park

“We heard you loud and clear; you wanted a dog park, so here it is,” McGrath said of the dog park site at Burbank Park.

Work on the off-leash park is in the end stages, and the city has promised it will be open to canine patrons and their handlers by July 4. It features two fenced-in areas — one to let larger dogs roam, and one for smaller dogs.

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The Burbank dog park is an answer to a need for an area in the city for people and dogs to enjoy nature. The wooded paths have benches, disposable bag dispensers and even ground-level drinking fountains for dogs. The park will not be open until vegetation has taken root in the construction area to stabilize the soil.

After more than a year of the pandemic, McGrath said it will serve as a social space for not only pooches.

“It’s as much as for dogs as it is for people,” he said.

Amanda Burke can be reached at aburke@berkshireeagle.com, on Twitter @amandaburkec and 413-496-6296.

Amanda Burke covers Pittsfield City Hall for The Berkshire Eagle. An Ithaca, New York native, she previously worked at The Herald News of Fall River and the Fitchburg Sentinel & Enterprise. Find her on Twitter at @amandaburkec.