A community forum focused on biking in the Northern Berkshires was recently held, where panelists discussed the challenges and future for expanding the potential for biking in the region.
Jonathan Butler, Adams Town Administrator, said that that the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail – an 11.2 mile railroad corridor turned bike path that runs from Lanesborough up through Adams – has had an impact on the town’s economy that he calls “nothing short of significant”.
“Honestly it does bring a lot people into our community from outside of our community from any town in a situation like ours where we’re trying to revitalize our downtown and play a bigger player in the visitor economy in Berkshire County,” said Butler.
Butler spoke as a panelist at a discussion of biking in the Northern Berkshires organized through the North Berkshire chapter of Mass In Motion, a state funded, community focused wellness program, and group Bike North Berkshire.
The next phase of the Ashuwillticook rail trail, funded by federal money received by localities last year, will stretch from Lime Street in Adams to Hodges Cross Road in North Adams. The project is expected to begin construction in 2015.
A 1.7 mile expansion of the trail through Adams from Hoosic Street to Lime Street is currently stalled, according to Butler, because of a conflict with the Berkshire Scenic Rail line, which runs parallel to the planned trail for six tenths of a mile. Butler said the project will go back out to bid this summer.
Butler did argue however, that he’d like to see some environmental regulations eased to allow for swifter permitting when expanding bike paths in Massachusetts.
“It seems like our regulatory process for bike trails is similar for what you’d have for a four-lane or six-lane highway – is a little bit extensive,” said Butler.
Lauren Stevens, a local activist from Williamstown also sat on the panel. Stevens warned that the municipalities should be wary of environmental issues related to expanding bike paths, particularly along wetlands like the Ashuwillticook, saying that the permitting might take longer or be more expensive than expected.
“Certainly environmental regulations should be reasonable but I also think that the wetlands values and rivers values that they protect do need to be protected, and that bike paths are small roads,” said Stevens.
Stevens said that because the Ashuwillticook currently runs along a railroad corridor that was built in the 19th century when there were few environmental regulations, it may make more sense to explore alternate pathway plans as the trail expands.
North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright, also a panelist, said that he welcomes more community discussion around biking and similar public projects that he considers positive for economic development and community health. He also added that will take an engaged community to put new ideas into motion.
“You need a group that’s going to lobby for this, a group that’s going to be loud and vocal, and a group that’s focus and has act together,” said Alcombright.