Berkshire naturalist Thom Smith explores the wildest corner of the city.
Springside Park’s 237 acres of mostly undeveloped field and woodland fit gently into the residential neighborhoods of Pittsfield’s North End. Far more trees — and squirrels — live in this part of town than any other, in the city’s largest park.
How large is the park? Jim McGrath, open space and natural resource program manager for the city, answers, “It takes up roughly 37 percent of Ward 1A and contains just over ten and one half miles of trails.”
Casual visitors often use these walking, hiking, running, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing trails, including my family and the park’s other neighbors who think of it as our back yard, but it is also Pittsfield High School Cross Country teams’ home course for racing and practices, and with Reid Middle School abutting and merging with the park without fence or hedgerow, students there can’t help but think of Springside as their schoolyard. Our grandson, now living in Westfield, sometimes runs the trails during visits.
Pittsfield High School Girls cross-Country coach Teresa Apple helped in making the park map, McGrath says, using her GPS on the trails, and his engineering department drafted the map itself.
In the winter, the dark pines, both white pine and hemlock, offer a deep wood’s feeling and a comfortable windbreak cold days. To find them most easily, follow trails south and west from the softball complex on Benedict Road.
One of my family’s favorite activities while exploring Springside in winter, especially following a soft snow, is following animal tracks while attempting to read where a fox, rabbit, or squirrel was going. And when we find fox tracks — almost always in a straight, deliberate line rather than helter-skelter as dog’s tracks often are — we begin asking questions. Are those other tracks rabbit or squirrel perhaps?
When the snow gets deeper, we put on our snowshoes and go for a spin, and many of our neighbors do too.
“Cross country skiing and snowshoeing takes place regularly throughout the winter months,” McGrath told me.
The main entrance is a paved driveway off North Street, and the parking area hasoutstanding views toward the south and west, including sunsets (occasionally spectacular) over the Taconic Range.
Trail access begins behind the Springside House and the dirt road veering left off of the driveway, and also behind the Softball Complex on Benedict Road, behind the ball field and playground on Springside Avenue, and also past the nearby wading pond, now a cattail marsh, just west of the playground.
Of course, the park and parking is free. No amenities.
With a map either in hand or on your computer you will find paths beginning along and at the termination of most streets that border the park itself. To find one, contact the Community Development office at city hall, 413-499-9344 or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org
In the photo at the top, Patrick O’Connor of Holyoke is following tracks in fresh snow. Photo by Thom Smith