Push begins to map, promote Berkshires' mountain biking trails

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PITTSFIELD — Berkshire County has no shortage of mountains. And it attracts people who like to take sturdy bicycles off-road.

But the region could do more to connect trails with tourists, planners believe, and they see a way to close the loop.

The executive committee of the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission is expected to give the group's leader a green light Thursday to go after money to create a comprehensive map of mountain biking destinations.

"To make Western Massachusetts more attractive to mountain bikers," said Thomas Matuszko, the commission's chief.

As mountain biking continues to attract interest, the goal is to market the region as a destination. That idea is already part of steps being taken to spur economic development in Adams, where efforts continue to create new recreational opportunities at the state-owned Greylock Glen site.

State Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield, an avid cyclist, has been a leading proponent of doing more to tap the tourism potential of the area's natural places — and reach a growing consumer market.

"We are well placed near major population centers, such as Boston and New York City," Hinds said. "However, to date we have not had the top-shelf regional outdoor recreation infrastructure to market. One comparative advantage for the region is our unequaled access to nature."

Hinds managed to get $800,000 included in the most recent state environmental bond bill to "map, design and build" what he terms "a world class regional mountain biking system."

The state's MassTrails Grant Program, overseen by the Department of Conservation and Recreation, was selected to allot initial funding. The 2019 MassTrails grant round is open, with applications due Feb. 1. Grants range from $10,000 to $100,000, according to the program, and require a 20 percent match from another source. For "high priority" projects, the top award can triple, to $300,000.

"The regional planning commissions will be central moving forward," Hinds said.

Matuszko said he and the leaders of other regional planning groups in Western Massachusetts are discussing whether to seek one shared grant, or apply separately. The other groups are the Franklin Regional Council of Governments in Greenfield and the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission in Springfield.

"We certainly would work together in one way or another," Matuszko said.

The project would create geographic information system maps of state forestland, as well as note needed trail improvements.

Larry Parnass can be reached at lparnass@berkshireeagle.com, at @larryparnass on Twitter and 413-496-6214.


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