COLUMBIA — It was as much the quiet neighborhood close to central Columbia as the house that led Darron Blakemore to Bluffdale Drive in 2000.
He also had a personal connection: His grandfather had owned the house, which was built in 1959 and was the first on the cul-de-sac off Old 63.
“I liked the place, and I respected it enough that I wanted to do the best I could to keep it nice,” Blakemore said. “It’s a really good place in town.”
Now Blakemore and many of his neighbors say that the character of their neighborhood is being threatened by a proposed trail that’s part of the GetAbout Columbia project. The project, funded by a $22 million grant from the federal government aiming to reduce reliance on motorized transportation, recently released details for several projects in the southeastern part of the city.
Those plans include a trail through the Hinkson Creek valley that would serve as a major east-west corridor. The trail would also connect three major areas: MU and downtown; Stadium Boulevard and the Grindstone trails; and the Hominy Creek trails and Stephens Lake Park. The Hinkson Creek Trail would likely cost $1 million, GetAbout Columbia Manager Ted Curtis said.
To make these connections, the plan is for the trail to connect at Bluffdale Drive. Bicyclists and pedestrians would share the street with cars from the trail head to Old 63.
Numerous residents on Bluffdale — a neighborhood mostly made up of brick, ranch-style houses built between 1959 and 1961 — hope there is another way.
They say that they like their privacy and the fact that they know their neighbors and nearly everyone who drives down their street. They worry about several problems the new trail could cause, primarily that it would bring changes — and many more people.
“It’s been peaceful and serene since the 1960s,” Blakemore said. “It hasn’t changed much since then.”
Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe, who lives on Bluffdale Drive, said she enjoys biking and believes the trail will make it convenient for her to ride to work. But she says she understands the views of her neighbors and will give their concerns priority when the trail project comes before City Council, likely in early March.
“At least 80 percent of the people are against it. It’s overwhelming,” she said. “This is one of the first times where they’ve run the trail down the street in a cul-de-sac, so it’s really impacting a neighborhood more than any other trails would.”
Tim Turpin, who has lived on Bluffdale since 1993, is an outspoken opponent of the proposed trail. He has a 10-year-old stepdaughter, and one of his main concerns is the safety of children.
“Right now, we know everyone who drives on our street,” Turpin said. “Now you’re inviting anyone in Columbia, or anyone in the world, really, to go down my street.”
For Blakemore, the trail would connect to Bluffdale just a few feet from his driveway. He and his wife, Brenda, could likely see the trail from their dining room window. Blakemore wishes his backyard — and the whole neighborhood — could remain a bit more private.
“I don’t want to stop the whole thing,” Blakemore said. “But my street is so small, and I just can’t see why it can’t be somewhere else.”
Turpin said he worries that college students will park in the cul-de-sac to ride their bikes or walk to campus, even with private parking signs posted.
The neighbors also point out that the street is relatively narrow and has no sidewalk, which makes the residents wonder whether there would be enough room for traffic, parking and bicycles.
Neighbors also worry that the 10-feet-wide concrete trail will create more impervious surfaces where water can’t drain into the ground, causing Hinkson Creek to back up into their yards.
The parking lots at Wal-Mart and Lowe’s — about 87 acres of impervious surface — already drain into the creek upstream. When it rains, Turpin said, he has seen 4- to 6-feet waves rushing down the creek, carrying basketballs, plastic grocery bags and lawn chairs.
Ted Curtis, the manager of the GetAbout Columbia project, said the group’s engineers will work around the drainage issue by planting rain gardens and using other techniques to absorb the water, where possible.
Many residents, including Blakemore, Turpin and Sutu Forte, enjoy the nature and animal life in the valley.
While a bike trail might not seem like a significant disruption, Turpin feels that certain animals would be scared away for good during construction and use.
“I’ve always hoped for a nature sanctuary back there. It has the most glorious path in the autumn,” said Forte, who has lived on the street on and off since 1972 and who moved there permanently in 1994. “There are 38 acres of just nature. There’s deer, turtles, beavers, foxes, coyotes. I could see a trail of mowed grass for people to walk and run, but not a 10-foot concrete trail.”
The property is owned by Klifton and Barbara Altis. Under federal rules, Curtis said, the city would have to offer market value to buy it.
Not everyone in the Bluffdale neighborhood or the other surrounding neighborhoods off Old 63 is opposed to the plans.
Joseph Sandone, who lives across the cul-de-sac from Blakemore, said he looks forward to having a reason to be more active and that his wife would enjoy the opportunity to bicycle to work at MU.
“My only concern is with people parking in the cul-de-sac,” Sandone said. “Part of growth is that nobody wants it down their backyard, but somebody has to.”
Curtis said the possibility of having a trail through the Hinkson Creek valley had been on the books since before he started his position. When they had engineers look at the best way to connect the trail to roads, Bluffdale was still the preferred, most direct route.
Other streets in the vicinity are on top of a steep hill, which would make the trail a difficult climb for bicyclists.
While he sympathizes with the neighbors’ concerns, Curtis said his job is to work with the engineers to find the best routes and then let City Council weigh the pros and cons.
“My job is to get people out of cars and onto bikes and walking,” he said. “I try to work out the technical issues the best I can.”
Curtis said that based on neighborhood feedback, he will likely look at other options — connections from the trail to other roads or cutting out the proposed link to Bluffdale.
Hoppe’s suggestion is to take the trail off the table — at least for now.
“It’s an old neighborhood, and there’s older people who are used to having it quiet and are not used to having a lot of strangers going through the area,” she said. “I think I have to be sympathetic to that. There’s lots of other ways and lots of other trails going in around us, I just think you don’t have to go overboard.”