Environmental Planning class works on new local bike path

Four students in the “Environmental Planning” class are working with members of the community on a bike path which will connect North Adams and Williamstown.

Julie Jung ’15, MaryKate O’Brien ’16, Claire Swingle ’16 and Hannah Van Wetter ’15 have proposed the Cole Field Greenway and Bike Path, a 10-foot wide path that would stretch between the Photech Mill on Cole Avenue and the end of the current trail on Syndicate Road.

The Cole Field segment is part of a larger project that would connect Williamstown and North Adams. In addition, in the future, the towns will consider connecting the new path to the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail, which currently runs 11.2 miles between Lanesborough and Adams. The path, which was completed in 2001 by the Berkshire Bike Path Council (BBPC), follows a rail line that was vacated in 1990 by the Boston & Main Railroad. The BPPC hopes to eventually connect the Connecticut and Vermont borders with a 75-mile bike path.

After facing opposition in 2010, North Adams officials again proposed three miles of bike paths from the Williamstown line near the Spruces to Western Gateway Heritage State Park in North Adams. North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright believes the path will connect important parts of the community including Greylock School, Alcombright Athletic Complex, Western Gateway Heritage State Park and others, according to an article in The Berkshire Eagle from Oct. 30.

“… Once it’s done it will radically change life for Williams students who will be able to safely ride to all destinations between campus and North Adams, and once the other sections are built, all the way to the Berkshire Mall,” “Environmental Planning” Professor and Associate Director of the Center for Environmental Studies Sarah Gardner said. Gardner predicts the Cole Field segment will be built in 2016.

“Environmental Planning” is an upper level class that is required for environmental studies majors and concentrators. Each semester, under the supervision of Gardner, students work with a client in the community on planning a project in the Berkshire region.

Past projects have included Disaster Relief and Affordable Housing in Williamstown, North Adams Open Space and Recreation Plan: Promoting a Healthier City, Local Food Study of Northern Berkshire County and Ephraim Williams Had a Farm: An Agricultural Plan for College Land, among others.

This semester, the two main goals of the students’ project include improving access to the Hoosic River in order to begin changing the culture surrounding the River and its use and mapping a possible bike path in the Cole Field area.

Although students have worked on the bike path in several previous years, according to Gardner, “This is the most exciting project because we actually have the construction funds from DOT [the Massachusetts Department of Transportation] to build the trail.”

According to the students’ initial report, the project is funded by Massachusetts State funding projects in addition to the National Scenic Byway Grant Program

As part of the project, the group is working with three clients: Tim Kaiser, director of Public Works in Williamstown; Todd Holland, the College’s Energy Conservation project manager and Lauren Stevens,  Hoosic River Watershed Association board member.

“The larger goal for the Mohawk Bike Path is to promote recreation and tourism in the Berkshires, add to the quality of life in the region, be an attractive destination for recreation and provide alternate means for transportation between North Adams and Williamstown,” according to the students’ report.

“Bike path planning normally takes a long time but this trail has taken especially long because there are lots of topographical challenges, as we say, between Williamstown and North Adams, mainly two rivers to cross,” Gardner said. Gardner has been working on various parts of the project for 13 years.

Within the coming week, the students have plans to publicize the results of a student survey it issued “to assess the existing awareness and use of the river walk trails and to prioritize improvements to this unique area,” according to the students’ report.

Throughout the planning process, students have also consulted a previous study conducted by Facilities and the Purple Bike Coalition about bike accessibility and safety on Route 2 and several other nearby roads.

Students started working on the project on Oct. 1 and will present their final results in the second week of December.