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Progress Being Made on Pittsfield's Westside Riverway Project
By Andy McKeever, iBerkshires Staff
02:19AM / Friday, February 24, 2017
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More park space on Dewey Avenue is expected to be available for use later this year.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Westway River Park project is starting to come to fruition.
 
Permitting Coordinator Nate Joyner told the Parks Commission on Tuesday that new park space should be opening this summer on Dewey Avenue. The city had acquired a number of parcels, mostly through tax title, and has been working to demolish existing buildings and clean contaminants from the soil.
 
That work is 75 percent complete, Joyner said, with the final touches being done this spring. There is also one final building remaining in area which is also scheduled to be razed this year. Then the new open space are will available for public use.
 
"It was heavily overgrown with a lot of invasive species and not well maintained in general. It will be a clean slate starting in the spring and then we will be pursuing grant funding, state and other sources, in the future to build out the improvements," Joyner said.
 
It won't be everything that is envisioned for the areas along the river between Dewey and John Streets — it's only going to be an open field. But it is a major step toward the plan crafted some 10 years ago.
 
The Westway River Park project is part of a master plan crafted in 2007 to re-envision the land use along the banks of the west branch of the river. In this section, the hopes are of turning the formerly polluted and urban area into a park use. 
 
"This will be transformation for this neighborhood," said Parks and Open Space Manager Jim McGrath. "This is an old urban neighborhood, a lot of nasty things were in the soil thought here and that has been cleaned up and remediated. We're really excited to bring this to the next phase."
 
The new park area along the river will be an open field, which is mowed and maintained by the city, for now. Joyner said he plans to work with the state's Greening the Gateway Cities program to see if trees can be planted. In the future, plans include a bridge over the river and additional sitting, parking, playgrounds, and observation areas. 
 
The rest of the improvements remain a number of years out, but the first piece of usable open spacing opening this spring or summer signifies a significant step.
 
"It will be usable for the neighborhood and the community it just wont have the improvements we are envisioning — the pathways, some of the seating areas, the observation area along the river, those are the extra improvements we hope to get funded," McGrath said.
 
The city had already owned parcels on each side of the river the John Street side and the Dewey — Avenue side — and then acquired nine other parcels, spanning about 2 acres. One final building remains to be demolished. That is expected in the spring.
 
Down the road, a separate parcel at Dewey and Linden was gifted to the city, about a half acre, and that too is planned to contribute to the riverway project.
 
The effort is just one of many along the river. The city has been putting in new canoe launches, working to remove the Mill Street Dam, and has planned improvements to Clapp Park. McGrath said the various projects all tie together in the city's "intentional" focus on the west branch of the river from Wahconah Park to Clapp Park.
 
The total Westside Riverway project is estimated to cost "hundreds of thousands of dollars" and Joyner says he hopes to find grant funding for the next phases. The next round of potential grants opens in the summer, which if awarded the city could do additional work next construction season.
 
McGrath said the project hits a number of targets for grant programming — it is a former Brownfields site, it is along a waterway, it is a passive use, and it is in a challenging neighborhood.
 
"There are a lot of reasons why this is highly competitive in the grant work," McGrath said. 
 
While the creation of an open field may not seem like much, there is a significant amount of permitting needed for a contaminated site along a river. That groundwork is completed, making the next phases somewhat easier — provided the city finds funding.
 
"This is a project we have been slowly working on and we are at a critical point here," McGrath said.
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