Letter: Best to keep Columbia's trails unpaved

Tuesday, August 12, 2008 | 10:05 p.m. CDT; updated 7:14 p.m. CDT, Thursday, August 14, 2008

I read the Columbia Missourian article online this morning about concreting the trails.

I didn't like it very much for several reasons. First of all, the Parks & Recreation Commission never endorsed the trail draft. In March, I spoke against it. We did not take a vote on it at that time, and we haven't officially discussed it since.

Secondly, I thought the majority of Columbia's citizens expressed a negative opinion on this and it was a dead issue. I believe most citizens are against concrete on existing nature, recreation and fitness trails for good reason. We are continually assured this will not happen, then we read in the newspapers and hear on TV from city staff and Ted Curtis (GetAbout staff member and manager for Columbia's federal nonmotorized transportation program) that we will/should be concreting. They give one-sided reasons for concrete and give very little, if any, reasoned opposition. Which primarily is, that it is an impervious surface that increases runoff and is terrible for walking, running, dogs, and I submit even as an all-weather base. Concrete returns almost all of the impact of walking, jogging or running. Try riding your bike over, running through or walking on concrete that is icy, wet or covered with sediment.

The city and/or Ted Curtis never give the initial dollar figure cost of concreting the trails because that initial cost is extremely high. Make no mistake, these are our tax dollars, albeit ones we have sent to the federal government.

Let's extend the trails and connect them. Perhaps we can even put concrete or asphalt on some of the less environmentally sensitive areas. But what if we spend our remaining GetAbout dollars on concreting sections of existing trail, then never get additional funds to make the connections happen? GetAbout has spent over 9 million dollars, and we have little on the ground to show for it. I think we have invested many dollars in engineering and design of projects that will never be built, and shouldn't be built.

I am disappointed in the way the GetAbout Columbia program has been handled. We were pretty much told what we should do and have. These ideas were pretty much rubber-stamped until the folks of Columbia got involved. We were told how we should imitate St. Louis and/or Madison, Wis. But we are not them. Our nature, recreation and fitness trails are unique. We think for ourselves and benefit from a high degree of citizen involvement.

I also don't believe the Parks & Recreation Department is maintaining the Bear Creek Trail correctly. Why? Perhaps the answer lies in GetAbout's desire to concrete part of this trail as an experiment. To get the camel's nose under the tent, so to speak. I'm a 50 States marathon runner. I use the Bear Creek Trail almost daily and I too have concerns with parts of that trail.

City staff also mentioned the gravel washing into Bear Creek as a reason to concrete this part of the trail. What they don't mention is that Bear Creek is already naturally a gravel-bed creek. And erosion? How much erosion can there be from a nearly level, 0-2 percent sloped floodplain area. Most of the erosion is coming from adjacent uplands that are not well-protected from erosion.

Filling in ruts with gravel of all sizes, and quickly running over it with a blade is not good trail maintenance. Adding more and more gravel of various sizes creates hazards for foot traffic, as well as cyclists, and yes, it is expensive. Good drainage, a crowned trail, and good grading is the most economical, and I believe, correct answer. I'm also a former soil scientist with the USDA, Natural Resources Conservation Service. Some of the statements that have been made about clay soils are incorrect as well. For one thing, the floodplains do not have all clay soils in them, far from it. Sand and silt predominate, and these soil textures do not shrink and swell like some of the upland clays.

I remain adamant that these beautiful nature, recreation and fitness trails are so aesthetically valuable that to slap a slab of concrete down the middle should not be an option. We do everything in our power as a city to lessen the amount of runoff and impervious surface. Then what do we propose? Putting a totally impervious 10- to 12-foot surface in the middle of our most precious floodplain greenbelts? Being able to walk, ride, jog or run down a country lane in the middle of a city the size of Columbia is truly an invaluable and irreplaceable resource. Compromise is a good word, unless it entails giving up much to gain little.

Please Second Ward Councilman Chris Janku and Columbia, help us put a stop to the talk of concreting the recreation and fitness trails once and for all. I stood behind Donna Crockett, former city council member, at the dedication of the Bear Creek Trail many years ago. I think her family will tell you she was most proud of two things during her tenure on the council. One was widening Route B/Paris Road, and two was the Bear Creek Trail. Donna had her priorities straight, and I don't believe she would have been as happy with either of her major accomplishments if Route B had been graveled, or the Bear Creek Trail had been concreted. Let's keep our priorities straight as well.

What we have to gain is nowhere near what we have to lose.



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