Berkshire Bike Path Council President Margie Cohen speaks at Thursday's ceremony.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — At the ribbon cutting for the new Mohican Trail on Thursday morning, the president of the Berkshire Bike Path Council remembered a time when not everyone believed such paths could be built.
"Twenty-three years ago, a small chorus of people started singing 'Bike path, bike path, bike path,' and everybody thought we were nuts … including Mayor Barrett," Margie Cohen said, nodding to now state Rep. John Barrett III, one of several state and local dignitaries on hand for the ceremony.
"Twenty-three years later, the Berkshire Bike Path Council has over 400 members singing, loudly, 'Bike path, bike path, bike path.' Included in that chorus is all of our state and local officials and so many partners. … All the voices are coming together to encourage a path from Vermont to Connecticut."
The 2.4-mile leg of that larger project was completed earlier this year by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, which turned over ownership of the trail from Syndicate Road to the Spruces Park to the Town of Williamstown.
Thursday's ceremony was an opportunity for MassDOT officials and local representatives, along with community activists like Cohen, to celebrate the trail and recognize those who made it happen.
Barrett, who accepted Cohen's jest with good humor, was one of several to recognize the work of his predecessor in the State House.
"I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Gailanne Cariddi," Barrett said of the state representative who served the First Berkshire district from 2010 until her death in 2017. "Gail Cariddi was really part of how we have expanded the concept of outdoor recreation here in the Northern Berkshire area and Berkshire County and, eventually statewide. It reminds me when we talked about arts and council and how that has become an economic development piece — in our area, outdoor recreation has become and will continue to grow and economic developer of the area.
"[Cariddi] was one of the instigators in building the Ashuwillticook Trail. I can remember, as mayor, I asked her to be the liaison to it as the City Council president. She took it on, she grew it, and it magnified to such large proportions of what we see today."
Cohen emphasized in her remarks that the work is not done, and she talked about the Berkshire Bike Path Council's support of design work to complete the leg from Williamstown's Spruces Park, through North Adams to Mass MoCA and, eventually, south from downtown North Adams to the Ashuwillticook Trail head in Adams.
During Thursday's festivities, Cohen gifted the town two signs from the Western New England Greenway project, which sees the path through Williamstown as part of a larger network from Montreal, Quebec, to the Long Island Sound.
Throughout the half hour ceremony on Williams College's Cole Field, which abuts the Mohican Trail, officials provided reminders that those connections take time.
"Someone mentioned the Ashuwillticook and its extension to Crane [Avenue in Pittsfield]," state Sen. Paul Mark said. "In my first term in the House, back in 2012, I filed a bond bill earmarked to get a study done and get some of the easements. That was one of the first things I was successful at in the legislature.
"And it took 10 years — I couldn't believe it — for the extension actually to open. It made me think of Tip O'Neill and the Big Dig, just how difficult these projects can really be."
State Transportation Secretary Gina Fiandaca gave a list of some of the difficulties faced by planners for the Mohican Trail, the first of its kind in the county not to take advantage of existing railroad beds.
Fiandaca mentioned the 100-year flood plain, the wetlands, the endangered species and the development restrictions placed by FEMA on the Spruces Park among the obstacles the project faced.
"That's the hallmark of MassDOT, Fiandaca said. "We take on the big projects, take on the challenging projects, take on the projects that are important to the community."
Speaking for the Williamstown Select Board, longtime member Jane Patton said the project has the backing of the community.
"It took the connections of everybody who is here and everybody who is not here today to make this happen, to make a connection between Williamstown and our sister communities," Pattion said. "I think it takes connections to maintain this and take care of it, as Rep. Barrett suggested.
"I am just thrilled to be part of a community that values projects like this."
Robert Menicocci, the fourth Williamstown town manager to work on the project and the third in the corner office during its construction phase, said that while the Mohican Trail is an amenity that can add to the health and well-being of Williamstown residents, its impact goes further than that.
"The link to North Adams is an important economic driver that we're very excited about," Menicocci said. "It will help draw people to the region for tourism and things of that nature."
Menicocci also passed along the gratitude and well wishes of representatives of the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohican Indians, who were unable to attend Thursday's ceremony. Menicocci noted that leaders of the tribe, including its president, were in the county last week for a ceremony in Stockbridge and unable to make the return trip from Wisconsin for the trail's ribbon cutting.
He did note that Town Hall worked closely with Stockbridge-Munsee representatives to find an appropriate name for the trail.
"Mohican roughly translates to, 'The people of the waters that are never still,' " Menicocci said. "That came about largely due to the fact that, as a community, as a tribe, they settled many times in valleys along rivers. We really thought it was apropos given the fact that this trail really hugs the Hoosic River here.
"We thought it was a very impactful, meaningful name, in addition to honoring the Stockbridge-Munsee Community in the naming of it and honoring their ancestral lands."
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