Friday, September 26, 2014

To pave or not to pave...that is the question.

In the past week, two trail discussions have come to my attention--both about access to trails and whether or not to pave them or leave them "as is".  The first network of trails, collectively know as the River Bottoms to those who mountain bike in Minneapolis, may be changed so drastically the area will no longer have a "wilderness" feel.  Putting in a paved trail instantly means a ton of money spent and ongoing maintenance.  It's a big step and one not to be taken lightly.  I have friends who have been using this trail system for twenty years.  They live in the city and this is their source for getting a bit closer to nature.  A new trail will most certainly change the vibe.

The second trail discussion entails a place near and dear to my heart--the Badger State Trail, or as a few of us still call it by its old name, the H8TR Trail.  Currently this trail runs from Madison to the Illinois border and then connects into the Jane Adams Trail.  Most of the trail is crushed limestone, but the first few miles, to Purcell Road, are paved.  There is some discussion within the bike community hoping to continue the paved portion a few more miles to connect with the town of Paoli.  Although this wouldn't be a make or brake thing for us gravel lovers, currently Dane County has very few gravel roads due to the dairy industry, and to pave a few more miles means we would have to go that much further to find chunky, raw riding.

Okay, so this is where things get sticky.  I am all for accessibility--I was an intern with Wilderness Inquiry, assisting with wilderness trips for those with and without disabilities--but not if it means taking the wild out of wilderness.  In this country where everything seems to be so damn neat and tidy, sometimes its good to have things get a bit messy and not always have ease.  Wilderness Inquiry is actually a great example of this.  They have adapted wheelchairs, dogsleds and canoes to get people out into the wilderness vs. change the wilderness for those with mobility issues.  Yes, we do need to have Boundary Waters campsites which are rugged wheelchair friendly etc, but do we really need to cover our country in more asphalt?  What happened to learning how to adapt, pushing the boundaries, and becoming more comfortable with what's presented to us?  I worry if we allow these paving projects to go through, we will be opening up Pandora's box.  Already, I notice children no longer being allowed to play outside of their yard out of fear from the parents.  Kids, and adults, get bumps, scrapes and broken bones.  It's part of growing up, learning about oneself, finding the confidence needed in adult life and the strength to endure.  If we take all the risks out, what kind of culture will we be forming?

Although this isn't a bike trail, I remember when the lake loop around Devils Lake was paved.  My husband and I went out there a couple weeks after the job was completed, not knowing about any of it.  Devils Lake has been my escape for almost fifteen years.  It's a short drive or long ride from Madison, and in parts, you can feel a thousand miles away.  When we stepped out of the car, the first thing that hit us was the smell.  The smell of asphalt instantly made me sick.  As we began our hike, we both remarked on how lumpy and dangerous the trail was--we both felt it was more dangerous paved than not.  We also questioned the idea behind it regarding erosion.  From what we could see, this would cause more issues with chunks breaking off left and right and people cutting all around the trail on busy weekends.  I remember crying a bit over this destruction of nature and afterwards, on future hikes, avoiding the lake all together, and instead opting to hike on the Ice Age trail.

Is this what will become of the River Bottoms and the Badger State Trail?  I certainly hope not. I am not writing this to be an us vs. them argument; instead, I hope this gets people to slow down and think "is this really necessary?" before changing our landscape completely.

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