Most days, the water in County House Branch burbles lazily through Nik Palo’s front yard and the rest of his quiet west-Columbia neighborhood. In 1995, however, the water swelled with heavy rain and dragged away his 24-foot footbridge. Days later, his neighbors were still returning him pieces of the structure.
The creek, gully-washers and all, makes life on his property interesting, Palo said.
Soon the County House Branch that Palo sees from his window could be accessible to Columbia’s many hikers and bikers.
A recent report to the Columbia City Council outlines plans for creating a trail that roughly would follow the creek’s drainage between Twin Lakes Recreation Area off Chapel Hill Road to the Activities and Recreation Center at Clinkscales Road and Ash Street and end at Again Street Park. The trail would add another spoke to the developing system of trails that officials hope will continue to make Columbia more friendly to pedestrians and bicyclists.
“The trail would encourage people to use alternative forms of transportation to reach the MKT trail and ARC,” Fourth Ward Councilman Jim Loveless said. “The trail would provide the opportunity to walk there in relative safety. Plus it fosters an entire mind-set beyond the automobile.”
The council at its Monday meeting accepted a report from the Parks and Recreation Department that includes a conceptual route for the trail, which in many areas would follow the path of the southwest outfall relief sewer. That sewer project is intended to relieve the existing sewer, which is unable to handle wastewater from the area during heavy rainfall. Construction on the $1.5 million sewer line is scheduled to begin in the summer of 2007.
Discussion of the trail began in January when the sewer project came before the council. The city, when possible, tries to link new trails to sewer construction so that land acquired for sewer lines can be used both above and below ground, said Parks and Recreation Director Mike Hood. Both sewers and trails tend to follow natural drainages, so the strategy makes sense, he said.
The proposed trail is part of the city’s Trail and Greenbelt Master Plan, which calls for connecting more neighborhoods to the larger trail system.
Hood said trail connectors are proposed with “the goal of giving access to as many citizens to the trail system without having to drive there.”
That would mean more foot and bicycle traffic coming through the County House Branch neighborhood. And Palo likes the idea.
“That kind of traffic is nice traffic,” Palo said. “It’s a pleasant area for walking and biking.”
Palo said people coming through the area might see wildlife they wouldn’t expect in the middle of a growing city. Recently, Palo was checking his mail when he found a great blue heron in his yard.
The proposed trail would connect more than just the County House Branch neighborhood. It would follow the sewer line as closely as possible, starting south of Ridgemont, going under the intersection of Stadium Boulevard and College Park Drive, then following several city streets on its way to the ARC and Again Street Park.
Six to eight separate easements would be necessary where the trail would stray from the sewer line, Hood said. Each would be a minimum of 25- to 30-feet wide, and the trail itself would be 10- to 12-feet wide. The extra width of the easements allows flexibility in the actual trail construction to bypass trees and other natural landmarks.
Park planners chose the route after examining aerial photos and property ownership overlays to find favorable topographical areas, Hood said. Planners then tested the site’s feasibility by walking the route themselves.
Along stretches of city streets that lack sidewalks, the report proposes painting bicycle and trail lanes on road surfaces.
The proposed gravel trail material would be similar to what is used on the MKT trail. The park department will begin compiling cost estimates in the next few weeks, Hood said, and then the proposal will go to the council for further construction.
The project has no budget yet. Hood said the city will identify funding sources once cost estimates are done. Likely sources would be the city’s sales taxes for parks. Government grants might also be available.
Although the trail might still be years away, Palo is already looking forward to it. An avid biker, Palo said he has to pedal up a steep hill on Rollins Road to get — well — anywhere.
“It would be a nice trail,” he said.