Berkshire Woods and Waters: Enhancements recently made to Richmond Pond boat ramp

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On Nov. 6, a group of individuals met at the Richmond Pond boat ramp to celebrate the completion of its recent upgrades. With funds from the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife's Office of Fishing and Boating Access, the Natural Heritage Foundation and the town of Richmond, some platforms were set up for wheelchair access and kayak ramp access. Richmond Selectman Al Hanson hosted the event.

He thanked the DFW for making the boat ramp far more friendly and safe, noting that more people, including people with disabilities, will be able to use it. He thanked all those involved, including the Richmond Highway Department, for its effort in making this a reality.

Massachusetts Commissioner of Fish and Game Ron Amidon thanked the Baker/Polito administration and Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Matt Beaton for making sure "the money's got to the ground. It's a heck of an upgrade with a nice platform, which allows people to get on and off the water in a safe fashion." He thanked the town of Richmond for everything it does to make sure lands like this stay open.

State Sen. Adam Hinds, himself a kayaker, said that, "You can see the natural beauty that we have here, that we cherish, that are so critical as to who we are and critical to our economic development. The more we can do to preserve that, the better off we are. The town of Richmond has been on the front lines to make sure we prioritized this project."

"These lakes and ponds are so important to all of us here in Western Massachusetts, not only for people in the Berkshires and people who live on the ponds but for environmental tourism," said state Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli. "That's a serious opportunity for all of us who live out here in Western Massachusetts. Having access is critically important, that's why this investment here today speaks highly. These are wise investments, and the towns are wise to think about them as valuable assets. This is a great investment not only for the Berkshires, but also for the town of Richmond."

A representative from the Berkshire County League of Sportsmen commented how wonderful the project was, not only the ramp but also the handicap access.

Carl Foote from the Richmond Pond Association, which represents all the landowners around the lake, spoke as well.

"We are keenly interested in investing in this lake, and keeping it healthy and keeping it a great place for recreation," Foote said. "What's gone on this past year is a great enhancement."

He thanked Jerry Coppola for installing the benches, as well as Holly Stover for all that she has done over the years.

Jack Shepard, director of the DFW's Office of Fishing and Boating Access, the engineering agency for the Department of Fish and Game, thanked Secretary Beaton for providing the funds, as well as folks from the Richmond Highway Department and Terry Smith from his office. Terry is the senior environmental and civil engineer who designed this project and got the permits.

There were others in attendance, too, including Fish and Wildlife Western District Supervisor Andrew Madden and retired Fish and Wildlife Board Chairman George "Gige" Darey.

The ceremony had barely started when strong winds and rain began whipping. It was necessary for Highway Department staff and others to hold the overhead tarps, otherwise they would've flown into the lake. But, the rain didn't dampen the spirits of the ceremony, nor the tasty cider doughnuts that someone was kind enough to bring.

The improvements include three ramps that reach the water's edge, in addition to the pre-existing boat ramp. One ramp will have a 40-foot portable dock attached to it, specially constructed to make it easier for paddlers to get in and out of their kayaks/canoes. Not sure if shore anglers can use it, but the kayak/canoe fishermen will definitely benefit. There are two other ramps which allow handicapped anglers to reach the water's edge to fish.

The Richmond Pond Association purchased and the Richmond Highway Department installed two new benches that face east toward Lenox Mountain. The view is outstanding. Plaques have been installed on them by the Richmond Pond Association in memory of the late Jim Mooney and Lois Kelly, recognizing their lifetime work on behalf of the pond.

Lois' major contribution to the pond was her proactive efforts, which were successful, to downsize the proposed condominium development on Richmond Pond that ultimately became South Pond Farm Condominiums. It was originally proposed for about 72 condos but ended up being limited to 42, with prohibitions on docks and moored boats, and limits of tree cutting. Among many other feats, Jim was remembered for his 40-year career with the Boys and Girls Club of the Berkshires. The Camp Russell Swimming Pool and newly built cabin (Mooney Hall) previously had been named in his honor.

A page from the June 2008 Richmond Record was distributed to all attendees. An article, titled "Town Beach — from idea to final reality," was written by Stover. In it, she described how her father, Arthur Howard, returned home from World War II and was alarmed to see the beginning of extensive development along the south short of Richmond Pond. Although a native of Pittsfield, Arthur had close ties with Richmond, having camped summers on Richmond Pond all his life. He and other Richmond residents were concerned that they were being cut off from having a safe and adequately sized area for recreation on the lake.

In 1945, public access was created by eminent domain takings from the Pittsfield Boys Club to create shore-front access between Richmond Shores and Camp Russell. In the early 1950s, an agreement was made with the Boys Club to use a 50-foot-wide shorefront lot between cottage lots on the south shore. The arrangement worked in a limited way for 20 years.

The northwest shore offered the most likely place to have a town beach. The late Darwin Morse purchased land for $5,000 and held it until the town was ready to accept it. It did so in 1957 and reaffirmed it in 1959 after considering another project. There was a lot of negotiating with the Boys Club, the Boston and Albany Railroad, Camp Allegro (owners of the dam), Massachusetts Division of Waterways, Public Access Board, Department of Natural Resources and others to get adequate access to the property. An awful lot of work was performed by local residents, including Walter Iwanowicz, a local farmer who used his farm equipment to limit costs. Arthur and Fran Bartlett negotiated with the Public Access Board and, of course, Arthur Howard.

By the early 1970s, the Richmond Town Beach and state boat ramp were in full use, which set the stage for last week's event.

It is an interesting story, and space does not allow me to list all of the events which transpired over the years to get to this point. Perhaps you can get a copy of Stover's above-mentioned Richmond Record article. It is a fascinating read that illustrates what united residents of a small town can accomplish for the common good of all.

Many thanks to Ken Kelly and Stover for much of the information used in this column.

Questions/comments: Berkwoodsandwaters@roadrunner.com. Phone: 413-637-1818.

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