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Pittsfield Committee Supports $50K for Saw Mill Acquisition
By Brittany Polito, iBerkshires Staff
04:40AM / Friday, November 18, 2022
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The city is seeking a $50,000 boost from Community Preservation Act funding to acquire over 50 acres of conservation land along the southwest branch of the Housatonic River.

The Community Preservation Committee on Wednesday supported an out-of-cycle application for the saw mill property acquisition, which would fill a gap needed for the $400,000 transaction.

By owning these properties, the city aims to remove the threat of haphazard and misguided development, develop a greenway of protected land, and allow the community to use it for recreational purposes.

"These parcels are undeveloped and primarily forested and they represent kind of a rare tract of land just to the southwest of the center of the city," Park, Open Space, and Natural Resource Program Manager James McGrath said.

Last month, the effort received a $280,000 Local Acquisitions for Natural Diversity grant from the state’s Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs. The city is required to cover the remaining 30 percent of costs, consisting of $20,000 in capital funds, $50,000 in Conservation Commission Funds, and $50,000 in CPA funds if approved by the City Council.

Along with the CPA request, the council’s Nov. 29 agenda will include the purchase and sale agreement. The hope is to swiftly finalize the transaction and develop a management plan fueled by community input.

"This is an incredibly exciting once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to protect this spectacular urban forest. This, in my mind, represents the same once-in-a-lifetime opportunity as the Wild Acres property that was the first conservation property ever designated in Pittsfield some 60 years ago," Ward 4 Councilor and Conservation Commission Chair James Conant said.

"And in my almost 25 years of being on the Conservation Commission, this represents the most important acquisition not only to protect the urban forests, but it's a beautiful mature hardwood forest of beech and elm and oak trees and with the quarter mile riverfront, it offers fishing opportunities and just a spectacular place to take a walk."

The three parcels consist of 52.3 acres of land with 1/4 mile of frontage on the Housatonic River. They are bound by Barker Road and Velma Avenue to the south and to the east are bound by railroad tracks and Industrial Drive.

There is also a small portion on the north side of the river at the end of McKinley terrace.

Within the acreage are areas of core habitat mapped by the state's Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program.

For over a decade, the city has aimed to permanently protect these lands as part of the continued development of a greenway of protected land between Clapp Park and the Pittsfield Airport.

Conversations with property owners picked up again in 2020 and 2022.

"There's also a really cool project which is teeing up, one that's been led by the Berkshire Natural Resource Council, and that's the High Road hiking trail," McGrath reported.

"And that's a trail network that is being planned that extends really through the Berkshires is the goal and these parcels, the Saw Mill parcels represent a good link to make this trail network a possibility."

Committee member Libby Herland said it is a great project and a reasonable price to acquire the land.

"I have stated many times in our committee meetings that I would really like to see a project brought to us that protects some open space," she said.

"And this is actually the first project that has ever come to us that is really for open space."

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