At 237 acres, Springside Park is by far the largest of Pittsfield’s 33 parks, playgrounds and conservation areas. It has an interesting backstory, one that has a connection to the Miller family, and by extension, The Berkshire Eagle. which the Miller family owned for many years.
In 1910, former Pittsfield Mayor Kelton Miller, who served as the editor of The Berkshire Evening Eagle, and his wife, Eva, donated the original 10 acre tract that became Springside Park to the city of Pittsfield. In 1939, the Millers’ sons, Donald and Lawrence, donated an additional 74 acres that included the what is now known as Springside House, the rambling estate that Abraham Burbank originally built as a private residence in the mid-19th century. The rest of the park was cobbled together from additional tracts of land donated to the city by prominent city individuals and organizations all the way up through the 1970s. Springside Park contains gardens, an arboretum, athletic fields, playgrounds, even a pond located within the park’s borders. There have been two zoos. The entire area was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2008. The park means a lot to a number of people. Its adherents love the area deeply.
Now a group of mountain biking enthusiasts wants to establish a mountain biking skills course and pump track in the park on a 2.3 acre tract located near the softball and Little League field behind Reid Middle School. The Park Commission has given the proposal provisional approval. Formal approval won’t be considered until the Conservation Commission conducts a site review of the area because it is located near a buffer zone that surrounds a wetland.
Given all of its attractions, and the love so many feel for the area, we agree that Springside Park may not be the best place in the city for a mountain bike course. But we also believe that given the park’s overall size, placing a mountain bike skills course and pump track in a small area that is already located near athletic fields, and is behind a school, if it is set up correctly, won’t damage the aura that has made Springside Park so special to so many.
It’s easy to see why the opponents are against the idea. On paper, the proposal appears immense. According to the plans presented to the Park Commission earlier this week, the course includes five separate sections, the pump track, a skills training zone, a “flow zone” jump area, a dual slalom course, and rest and access areas. The pump track include 9,172 square feet of asphalt coverage. The rest and access areas include a 4,000 square foot crushed stone pathway. Five wooden construction features, two ladder drops, one wooden berm and two wooden “take-offs” would be built in the flow zone jump area. It sounds more like an amusement park than a mountain bike course.
Yes, a mountain bike course would definitely change that area of the park, but it’s a small section that’s already being used for athletic activities. Placing the park in that area won’t rob the rest of Springside Park of the natural beauty that means so much to so many. And that natural beauty should be protected at all costs. We recommend restrictions on the park’s hours, and a moratorium on further development within Springside’s boundaries. When it comes to development, a mountain bike course should not become the “tip of the iceberg” when it comes to development, as one letter writer recently stated.
The designers who presented their proposal before the Park Commission (the project has yet to be put out to bid) appear to at least understand what makes Springside so special. In their proposal, they state the park is designed to “minimize impact on the natural environment” and the photos they provided with their presentation bear that out. The facility will also be funded, designed and maintained by the nonprofit New England Mountain Bike Association, which will not have exclusive rights to the property in any “way shape or form,” according to Pittsfield’s Open Space and Natural Resource Program Manager Jim McGrath. It will be a public facility in a public park available for use by the general public. The Miller Family’s original intention was to have Springside be a public, free, open space for all. This facility will fit into that definition. The rest of Springside Park needs to stay that way, too.