North county bike path plan pushed back another year (copy)

A man rides his bike on the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail in Cheshire in 2019.

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NORTH ADAMS, MASS. — Roads? Who needs roads?

Barring major setbacks, and there probably will be setbacks, years from now someone could ride their bicycle from Bennington, through Pownal and Williamstown, Mass., and into North Adams without spending much time on roads.

In fact, the route would mostly flow alongside the Hoosic River, passing through valleys, meadows and forests, under railroad tracks using a former drainage route and through the Blackinton Mill.

An earlier proposal that took it through The Spruces and along a route in the Chenaille Terrace neighborhood to the airport property had too many easement and regulatory issues.

A new route proposal for connecting a bike path from Williamstown to downtown North Adams was described by principals in the Tourists hotel development during a virtual hearing hosted by the Hoosic River Watershed Association on the route of a bike path proposal from Bennington to Williamstown.

Another path through Williamstown that would connect Bennington to North Adams is scheduled to begin construction this spring and be ready for use in the summer of 2023.

According to Tourists co-founder Ben Svenson and project manager Eric Kerns, they have attained easements from Pan Am Railway to use three tunnels under the rail line near the Blackinton Mill that will allow the path to cross under the rails.

The Tourists team has been buying up property and working with Pan Am Railways, joining up more than 80 contiguous acres along the river that could be used as a recreational multi-use trail, Kerns said. Tourists has installed several walking trails through the property featuring outdoor art installations that can be viewed by Tourists guests and the public.

The plan is to take the path from the Spruces in Williamstown through a new covered bridge over Paull Brook on the east side of The Spruces into North Adams, and then cross a suspension bridge over the river to the north side, and follow the river through Blackinton Village on landscape already owned by the Tourists owners, eventually to wind up at Protection Avenue. East of that, the route of the path would be left up to the city to determine.

The bike path has found a new moniker as well — The Adventure Trail.

Earlier in the meeting, Mark Anders, transportation program manager for the Bennington County Regional Commission, described the route a bike path would take from Bennington to Syndicate Road in Williamstown, where it would join the Williamstown bike path soon to be under construction.

He said it is the subject of a scoping study, which is the first step to determine feasibility, obstacles and cost. It would wind up being about 12.5 miles long and run from Williamstown to downtown Bennington at Beech and Main streets. Much of the path follows the route of an old track bed of the Berkshire Hills Trolley, which went defunct in 1927, leaving the unused bed, parts of which are already used by hikers and off-road bikers.

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The project could easily take more than a decade to complete. The Williamstown section has been under discussion in the community for more than 20 years.

He noted the economic and health benefits such paths bring to communities. He also said the trolley was used by commuters between Williamstown and Bennington, and could again serve that purpose 100 years later.

“We want to encourage bicycling for commuting to work, shopping trips and just for exercise and general well-being,” he said.

But most people don’t feel safe riding on the side of a road, and many roads have narrow shoulders, so a bike path could become a lifeline, not just for health but for business investment as well.

There are several areas that could be tricky, including passing through the former Green Mountain Race Track in between the river, Route 7 and the rail line in Pownal, and near Syndicate Road where the trail would either pass over or under Route 7.

He said a rough estimate of the cost would be about $34 million.

Williamstown Selectman Andrew Hogeland said the cost of the path through Williamstown was about $5.5 million.

The Williamstown bike path route begins near the corner of Syndicate Road and Simonds Road on the south side of the Hoosic River. It will run alongside the Hoosic through Cole Field, cross over Cole Avenue and continue through the new Cole Apartments development, to cross over the Green River via pedestrian bridge. From there it will continue along the Hoosic passing through woodlands and cornfields, moving through The Spruces to emerge at Route 2 near the North Adams city line.

In addition, North Adams is seeking a route heading south through downtown that would eventually meet up with the Adams stretch of the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail on the south side of the city near McCann Technical High School.

Moving out for a bigger picture, there are also a number of efforts afoot to expand on the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail to the south, including the recent effort to fund a $2.7 million project to extend the trail south to Crane Avenue in Pittsfield.

Once all sections are completed during the next few decades, there could be a continuous hike/bike path from Bennington and parts north all the way south through Berkshire County and into Connecticut. Longer term plans take it north through Vermont and all the way to Canada.

Scott Stafford can be reached at sstafford@berkshireeagle.com or at 413-629-4517.


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