COLUMBIA — Bonnie View Nature Sanctuary and its neighbor Columbia Audubon Nature Sanctuary are in the news again. The vision of hands-on nature study and enjoyment in the sanctuaries is in conflict with the PedNet Coalition’s desire to construct a trail through Columbia Audubon Society property.
I’m a member of the board of directors of CAS. I know first-hand the development histories of the properties and the questions surrounding them and the trails.
It has been insinuated that CAS unfairly influenced Parks and Recreation in Bonnie View planning. This reflects a lack of respect for the process used by the department during dozens of meetings. CAS, PedNet, community sports groups and neighbors who border the property were among those who attended planning sessions.
Bonnie View neighbors and parks commission members showered the Bonnie View plan with high praise. So yes, as stated in the Tribune, “… the city has made a number of concessions in the area. …” They represent the wishes of the diverse community that the parks department so exhaustively consulted. The City Council subsequently voted to approve the Bonnie View master plan.
The issue under debate is a segment of Scott’s Branch Trail from Weaver Drive along Bray and Dublin avenues. The Parks and Recreation Department was requested by the council to recommend an alternate route.
The department responded by reviving a previously rejected route going through Dublin Park and property owned by CAS. This option, favored by PedNet and former mayor Darwin Hindman, requires the city to exercise the power of eminent domain against CAS. The necessity of eminent domain action was a factor in the previous rejection of this route. Other logical and safe street options were not considered.
Readers may ask, why has CAS consistently opposed the trail through its property? Columbia Audubon Nature Sanctuary and the adjoining city-owned Bonnie View Nature Sanctuary can be Columbia’s first environmental education site. It can be a place where science teachers share their knowledge with kids and adults. This is the vision. It is not, as some derisively suggest, an exclusive play area for birdwatchers and nature-lovers.
Recently “The Tribune’s View” stated the route favored by Hindman and PedNet will go “through a small corner” of CAS property and “can be done without undue injury.” Actually, the trail would extend the full length of the south side of CAS property. The southwest corner is a steep forested hillside. Compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act will require switchbacks and extensive grading. Result: 100- to 200-year-old trees cut down, and others damaged or killed by the construction.
Hank Waters states, “And he (Hindman) believes the small right-of-way for the trail will not substantially hinder the use of … Audubon park.” In fact, the 8-foot trail is accompanied by a 30-foot right-of-way, which makes a far wider swath when it is along switchbacks. Although trail proponents have suggested alternatives to concrete as a compromise, the parks department admits a hillside trail requires a stable surface like concrete.
PedNet spokesmen state the trail will be used by bicyclists, joggers, dog walkers, children walking to school or baseball games and many others. CAS and environmentally conscious people assert the activities the trail would support will impact habitat and wildlife beyond the concrete. Keep in mind, most of the activity on this trail is just passing through. The nature sanctuaries are not the destination; few trail users are there to experience or study nature.
To mitigate the concerns expressed by CAS, the parks department and Hindman have offered “compromises.” To wit: Stain the concrete any color CAS desires and install speed limit signs for the bicyclists.
Waters states, “Diverting trail bike and walking traffic through city streets, as opponents want, would jeopardize safety and impose an illogical route.” That’s not true. CAS has proposed a route that extends down Cunningham and then west on Chapel Hill.
This route has several advantages:
- GetAbout Columbia already designates these streets as “green routes.”
- The city already owns the right-of-way and would not have to use eminent domain against anyone.
- Sidewalks viewed as narrow could be widened.
- Compared to the original street route, this route crosses far fewer driveways — an expressed concern. Signage, road and sidewalk improvements would address other concerns.
- This route down Cunningham would benefit many more individuals than a route on the extreme west and north fringes of the neighborhood.
CAS believes the Cunningham to Chapel Hill route is the compromise that many can support. It preserves the vision that prompted both the city and CAS to designate property as naturesanctuaries. It preserves PedNet’s vision of trail-park connectivity by offering a safe and logical route. It’s also a route that avoids directing the city to use eminent domain to take private property when there is a safe, logical option at hand.
I hope the preceding explanation helps you understand Columbia Audubon Society’s position on the trail.
Bill Mees is a member of the board of directors for Columbia Audubon Society.