The proposal to pave local nature and fitness trails has created a stir among trail users, including one Columbia resident who is circulating a petition to urge officials to reconsider.
The proposal in question, drawn up by Ted Curtis, the senior planner for Columbia’s Non-Motorized Transportation Pilot Program, calls for using a portion of a $21.5 million federal grant to pave local nature and fitness trails. The project will occur in conjunction with the expansion of bicycle lanes and sidewalks, Curtis said.
Nicole Volkert uses trails such as the Bear Creek, Grindstone and MKT trails on a daily basis. After hearing about the paving plan, she called Curtis to learn more about his proposal and express her displeasure. She said she wasn’t satisfied by their conversation and decided the petition would be the best way to protect the city’s trails.
“If paved, the very nature — no pun intended — of the trail will be changed,” she said. “There is $22 million to spend. There are so many things we could do with that money.”
Volkert said she talked to other trail users who have their own ideas about how the grant should be spent. She said the money could be better used adding permanent restrooms at trail accesses, improving signs along the trails and building more pedestrian bridges over busy intersections.
Volkert said she wants to get 1,000 signatures before presenting the petition to Curtis and the City Council. A copy of the petition can be found at Peace Nook on Broadway, which provides space for petitions.
In addition to circulating the petition, Volkert has contacted local officials and groups, and state representatives. She called Sen. Kit Bond’s office, where she said a staff member told her Bond’s interest was to help secure the grant for Columbia, and he would let the city decide how best to use the money. She attended the monthly meeting of the Columbia Multisport Club to find other trail users who shared her concerns. Volkert also talked with Mayor Darwin Hindman.
Hindman said a portion of the MKT trail could be paved and a study measuring whether pavement would improve usage could be conducted. One compromise, he said, would be paving from the Stadium Boulevard access to downtown as soon as the next construction season, allowing a significant amount of time to gauge user response.
Curtis said he is certain his plan is in the best interest of the city, but he wants residents such as Volkert to stay involved.
“She (Volkert) can be key in the process,” Curtis said.
The project’s advisory committee will hold public workshops to hear resident feedback in the future, Curtis said. The workshops have not been scheduled yet. The City Council must still pass all proposals.
However, both Hindman and Curtis reiterated that the project must move quickly to meet the federally mandated deadline of Sept. 30, 2010, to show measurable results of improvements made using the money.
“It’s unfortunate that it’s going so fast,” said Curtis. “But we should have been doing this a year ago.”
Hindman said he had received several responses from people in favor of the proposal and several more from people opposed to the pavement plan. However, he said he was encouraged by the number of responses he has received.
“The exciting thing,” Hindman said, “is that so many people are taking an interest in the trails.”