Unsanctioned BMX structure in Pittsfield park surprises some city staff

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PITTSFIELD — Deep in the belly of Springside Park lies a dirt bowl and series of ramps popular with BMX riders.

After years of erosion and decay, the structure had become unusable — until this spring, when Pro BMXer Jake Seeley rallied a group of local riders to shape it back up.

"We just cleaned it all up, fixed it all up and made it functional again," he said. "Instead of having it be a breeding ground for mosquitoes, basically."

The work culminated in a "Dirt Brawl" event May 11 that drew about 100 riders and spectators — and complaints from neighbors near the site.

It also drew a rebuke from the city: Seeley held the event even though he was denied a permit because he missed a deadline.

Members of the city's Park Commission first discussed the matter during their May 21 meeting. They were disappointed to learn of the event and landscape alterations, and agreed something must be done.

Jim McGrath, the city's parks and natural resource program manager, engaged the city's attorney on the issue.

"The fact that you went ahead with the event after it was formally denied — and after you assured the city that it would not take place — is deeply troubling to the city, as are your further misrepresentations to city staff," City Attorney Stephen Pagnotta wrote in a letter to Seeley dated June 15.

Seeley, 30, of Williamstown, is a professional BMX rider who produces promotional videos with a crew and blasts them out via social media. He has 53,000 Instagram followers, and a signature line of bikes and bike parts.

Seeley met with city staff at the park site Thursday to discuss the infraction, as well as the future of the structure, which, he said, was carved into the park near Lafayette Street nearly two decades ago.

While some had known about the structure's presence in the park, McGrath said he and his colleagues in the Community Development Department only learned of it after Seeley's event last month.

Seeley and McGrath called the meeting productive.

McGrath instructed Seeley to remove hard materials from the site, meaning railings, plywood and other wooden features.

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"This means what is left is just simply just the shaped dirt bowl, which we have come to understand has been at this site for a number of years," McGrath said in an email to The Eagle.

Seeley said he hopes the city will allow the dirt structure to remain, as it provides another option for riders who need a place to go.

"There's no reason we shouldn't be working together on this," he said.

Seeley said he apologized to McGrath and city staff for holding the unpermitted event.

"I just really didn't want to let the kids down," he said. "It definitely won't happen again."

Seeley said he now sees the value in collaborating with the city.

"I'd rather work with them than against them in the future," he said.

The structure's fate still must be discussed among park commissioners, McGrath said, "and it would be premature to speculate what the outcomes of those discussions might be."

McGrath told commissioners that while he remains disappointed, Seeley has been fully cooperative as he works to pave a new path forward for the site.

"He hasn't shied away from this," he said.

The issue has been educational, McGrath told The Eagle.

"Through this all we [city staff] have become more keenly aware that this type of BMX facility is desired in our community by those who participate in BMX as a sport," he said.

Amanda Drane can be contacted at adrane@berkshireeagle.com, @amandadrane on Twitter, and 413-496-6296.


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