COLUMBIA — Residents affected by a proposed trail decided to form a committee to gather more information about the project before making a recommendation to the City Council.
About 35 residents, mostly from Garth and Thilly avenues, met at the Columbia Public Library on Thursday night to discuss the possibility of a trail that would connect the Grasslands residential area to the south end of Garth Avenue.
The trail was proposed by GetAbout Columbia to encourage people to use non-motorized methods of transportation. GetAbout Columbia is aiming to create as many trails and connections around town as possible that are safe for walkers, bikers and wheelchair-users.
Fourth Ward Councilman Jerry Wade organized the meeting for neighborhood residents. In an e-mail sent out to the Old Southwest and Broadway list, Wade discouraged GetAbout Columbia staff and city staff from attending.
At the meeting, Wade and Barbie Reid broadly explained the proposed plans and options for residents. Reid is a resident whose house would be near the proposed trail and has kept informed about it.
Wade explained the three options residents would have. They could accept the trail proposal; propose to the City Council other routes that would serve the same purpose; or reject the proposal and leave everything as it is.
For the last hour, residents sat in a circle and, one by one, said whether they were for or against the trail and why. After everyone made comments, Wade discerned that no one was against the connectivity and the non-motorized transportation objective that GetAbout Columbia has in mind. However, many were concerned with wildlife interruption, the cutting down of trees, increased traffic potential, the trail’s aesthetics and whether a trail would attract homeless people, which could be a safety or increased crime concern.
Few people had completely made up their minds. Even with Wade and Reid present, many residents said that they needed more information to make a decision. As a result, the group selected representatives — three in support of the trail and three against it. Wade said he will organize an informal meeting with the resident representatives, a GetAbout Columbia staff member and possibly an engineer or a Parks and Recreation staff member who would have more experience with the environmental effects of a concrete trail.
Although most of the residents were in favor of a wood chipped path of some sort, the trail must be concrete to meet the American Disabilities Act standards, which is required because of the use of federal money.
After that meeting, the neighbors will re-convene.
Whatever the residents decide in future meetings, the ultimate decision will be made by the City Council. Wade said there are 12 to 14 other proposed city projects, and they will approve up to $13 million worth. However, Wade assured the residents that their efforts will not be in vain. Even if the council approves a different project, the information will be kept on file to be considered for future grant opportunities.