Pittsfield Residents Weigh In on Vision for Pontoosuc Lake Park – iBerkshires.com

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The city continued its public outreach for a new master vision of Pontoosic Lake Park last week with a public hearing.
Community members largely spoke to the importance of preserving the spot's white pine trees, which were said to be "iconic."  

"It's time for us to have a very holistic look at Pontoosuc Lake Park," Park, Open Space, and Natural Resource Program Manager James McGrath said.

"It's time for us to take modern input this park, and determine if it is or isn't meeting the needs of the community."

The park was acquired in 1913 and has not had any substantial improvements made to it since the 1960s. This project is part of a long-range open space and recreation plan for Pittsfield.

From around the 1950s to the 1970s, there were large well-attended public beaches at Pontoosuc Lake Park along with a bathhouse and swimming docks.  

It is located in the northern part of the city and on the southern end of the lake. Within the park are two parcels: a 23-acre main area off Hancock Road and another area off North Street that covers one acre.

The revitalization is supported by Community Preservation Act funds. Some $8,000 was reallocated from CPA funds for the undertaking after a previously awarded project was unable to be completed. The Community Preservation Committee voted in favor of this reallocation.

Planning elements include a new public beach, improved picnic area facilities, and better accessibility.

An online survey was released during the month of September that queried the public on their current uses for the park and how it should look in the future. It generated 225 responses from residents and people living out of town.

The survey will be combined with this public hearing and another in-person hearing to fuel the concept designs and then a formal final design. The next hearing will be on Nov. 15 at 5:30 p.m. at City Hall in the council chambers.

Following the public input phase, Berkshire Design will move into the development of some concept plans for the Parks Commission to review in December and then toward creating the master vision.

The design group was present at the public hearing.

About 77 percent of the individuals taking the survey lived in Pittsfield. Other results showed that about half of the responders use the park weekly and a vast majority feel safe in the park.

Around half of the survey takers said park maintenance can be improved.

Top priorities for the park include improvements to the swimming beach, the restrooms, and the picnic tables.

This was supported by the public input from people who joined the hearing. There was also an overarching concern for the park's mature white pine trees, which were identified as offering uniqueness to the park and potential hazards because they may break in older age.

"I'm concerned about your concern about the white pine stand," one man said. "That's really an ancient pine stand some of the oldest history books about Pittsfield talk about this."

He was joined by a woman who seconded his sentiments and added that the white pines are "iconic."

Another resident said the landscape of the pines is in part what brought him to Pittsfield and called them a treasure that needs to be preserved. Living near the park, he has noticed that the trees are the most photographed portion, regularly attracting prom and wedding parties for photos.

The issue of swimming accessibility was also a reoccurring topic of discussion. On both the main and secondary parks, visitors find the swimming area difficult to access and not friendly for young swimmers.

At the main park, the swimming area is in close proximity to the main boat ramp and raises concerns.  The smaller park features a concrete retaining wall with stairs that often get slippery and is difficult for new swimmers because there is no shallow end.

McGrath highlighted the need for improved accessibility, especially on the Hancock Road section that has a steep slope.

"There really is a lack of handicap accessibility within the park, especially on that southern side, so that's certainly something we heard through the online survey and it's certainly and its certainly an observation from staff and from others over the years, that accessibility off of Hancock road into the major portion of the park is difficult or near impossible," he said.

"So it would seem that one of the things that we'd like to do is increase the accessibility here.

McGrath also seconded the need to establish appropriate areas for swimmers and boats because they currently use the same narrow channel of the lake.

"We're going to spend some time continuing to go through the survey results, we will look very carefully at your comments this evening and future comments," he said in regard to the master vision process.  "Be on the lookout for the unveiling of some concept ideas and ultimately, we will be working with the Parks Commission to define what that final vision is."
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