COLUMBIA — For 50 years, Mike Onofrio has enjoyed the meditative sanctuary of the creek and trees between Radcliffe and Cowan drives in the College Park and County House Branch neighborhoods.
Secluded behind a bamboo hedge, his home, with its wood-burning stove, is like a temple to the nature he loves so much, his own "cabin in the woods." The front of Onofrio's house is a span of large glass windows that give him and his wife an unobstructed view of their property.
But he and his wife say they'll have to cover their windows and give up the privacy they love if the city approves a proposed extension to the County House Branch Trail.
Built recently, the original trail heads north from the Twin Lakes Recreation Area and reaches Stadium Boulevard at the intersection of Stadium and College Park Drive.
In 2009, the city hired a consultant to evaluate trail extensions that would ultimately connect Twin Lakes, south of Chapel Hill Road, to the Vanderveen subdivision, north of Interstate 70 near Albert-Oakland Park.
In its report, the consultant proposed three possible routes for a section of trails that would connect Stadium Boulevard to Worley Street.
The third of these proposals, which would connect Radcliffe Drive and Cowan Drive to the trails system, is the one that has upset Onofrio and some of his neighbors. Onofrio drafted and circulated a petition asking that the City Council reject that route.
Onofrio said he had "65 signatures and counting" and that he expected to have hundreds of signatures before long.
The route in question — the County House Branch Trail phase 2 section C-1 — would meander through private property and cut between two duplexes. Onofrio said that is unacceptable.
Starting at the end of Radcliffe Drive, the trail would cut through Onofrio's property into the county right-of-way on the hill bordering the north side of Stadium. A bridge would have to be installed just inside the bamboo hedge to take the trail across the creek and onto the hill.
"They're taking the trail right over my driveway," Onofrio said.
Onofrio also noted that the property where the trail would be built is treacherous and hilly, which will make it difficult to create a trail that is easily accessible to the people who would use it.
One Cowan Drive resident, Sarah Bush, has written a letter to Fourth Ward Councilman Daryl Dudley, citing multiple reasons for her opposition to the trail.
Among her arguments are problems with teenagers hanging out in the woods leaving beer bottles at the edge of her yard, which she thinks the trail would encourage.
She argues that the trail's location, being "through the woods and near the creek," would make it impossible to patrol when compared to the alternative routes.
Onofrio insisted the trail is not necessary for his neighborhood.
"The main issue is that there are alternate routes," Onofrio said. "Why would they want to go through our property to put a bike trail in?"
Eminent domain as a last resort
To build section C, the city will have to buy privately owned land between Radcliffe Drive and Cowan Drive. If the landowners choose not to sell, the city will have to use eminent domain to obtain the properties.
"Our neighbors are all against it; they’re not gonna sell,” Onofrio said.
"We strongly prefer not to use eminent domain," Mike Hood, director of Columbia Parks and Recreation, said. "It's a last resort if it has to be used. We look for all options before using it."
According to a previous Missourian article, Second Ward Councilman Jason Thornhill and Dudley both said they wouldn't support eminent domain when a section of Scott's Branch Trail was proposed on land that belonged to the Audubon Society.
At a meeting on Dec. 19, Onofrio told the council he had suggested an alternate plan, one that would connect Cowan Drive to the trails through city-owned Kiwanis Park. That would leave his neighborhood on Radcliffe Drive out of the trails — something he said his neighbors support.
At the end of the meeting, council members asked to see Onofrio's plan before making any further decisions. Onofrio has some experience with trail design. As a student intern for Columbia Parks and Recreation, he walked the original route of the MKT Trail before it was built.
As for the two other routes proposed by the consultant, route A-1 is an on-road route that would not require the construction of any new trails and should not be compared to routes B-1 and C-1/2, according to the report.
Route B-1 would head slightly west from College Park Drive and continue north, connecting to Worley Street near West Junior High School.
The report concludes that route B-1 is the preferred route for a "west alignment (of the County House Trail) and as the regional trail" after "field investigations, discussions with city staff and a review of available information."
The consultant also recommended that the city consider route C — the one Onofrio opposes — for connecting neighborhoods on the east to the city's trail system.
At the bottom of the list
Onofrio and his neighbors may not have anything to worry about. Ted Curtis, director of the GetAbout Columbia project, said that section C isn't going to be at the top of his organization's list of trails to be built. It has an estimated cost of $500,000.
"There's $10 million worth of projects and $6 million in funds," Curtis said.
According to Curtis, the city will probably take into account any controversy about the proposed trails as it makes its choice.
Hood said the trails are not finalized in any way.
“The master plan only identifies potential trail projects,” Hood said. “There is certainly no commitment by the city to build any of those.”
He said neighborhood opposition is hard to get around.
"Every trail project is a challenge," Hood said. "There are usually many property owners involved. I don't know of any option that could be done without going through private property."