Gardening Matters

Let me state from the outset that I, and just about everyone I know who would consider themselves to be an environmentalist of some degree, I am in favor of developing biking, walking, and jogging trails in Brook Run Park.

Such trails would be a great way for people to enjoy the park and give our children and grandchildren an exposure to a beautiful mature forest. School groups, scouts, birdwatchers and other folks would be able to use the forest in the park as a living laboratory for scientific and ecological learning.

Brook Run is a great asset to Dunwoody and deserves to be opened up to all. However, I believe there are some serious faults with the latest plans for the multi-use trail in Brook Run.

Let me digress a moment with some of the history of the plans for the multi-use trail in Brook Run. Shortly after Dunwoody became a city in 2008, there was an effort to develop, with plenty of public presentations and citizen input, a Master Plan for various parts of the city. This included Brook Run Park. The initial approved plan that came out of this process then was to create trails in the park based on existing pathways.

That pathway was shown labeled as a “nature trail” in the planning documents. The material to be used included wood chips, asphalt and boardwalks. The trail was initially proposed to be 8-feet-wide. In 2010 the city applied for (and received) a grant from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources to develop a one mile trail of paved and unpaved trails and by restoring existing trails paths already built in the park. The cost was to be $129,320.

By 2012, with no public presentation or input of a revised plan, the original concept had been altered by city officials. The new plan was to build a 12-foot-wide concrete path ‘trail’ entirely through uncut forested areas. The trail would be designed to accommodate bicyclist, joggers, and walkers. It would also be built to accommodate people with disabilities.

The cost is now up to $420,000 for the first part (Phase I) of the new multi-use trail. A minimum of 337 trees would be cut down. More importantly, a construction zone is to be created to build the trail.

This would extend the actual cleared area to between up to 20 to 50 feet depending on the extent of the earth moving to be done, depending on how much earth moving and engineering works were necessary. There was no indication of any effort to restore existing trails as originally planned.

In the immediate future, the next part (Phase II) of the multi-use trail in Brook Run will extend the Phase I part of the trail to completely encircle the park. Although the location of the Phase II trail runs parallel to many open areas in the park, the actual path is shown to be built only through existing uncut forested areas. This trail will also be 12-feet wide plus the whatever necessary construction clearance zone is necessary along the full length of the Phase II trail. Hundreds of more trees will be destroyed in Phase II. It’s as if someone were trying to maximize the destruction of trees.

I have discussed this proposed plan for Phase I and Phase II with bicyclists, joggers and parents with children. Bicyclists are not excited about biking along a trail with sudden sharp turns or with skateboarders, joggers, groups of strollers walkers and children hanging around or strolling along exploring the woods.

Similarly, joggers would generally prefer to do their running on “soft trails” such as those made with boardwalks, wood chips or even cleared dirt. They say it is easier on their feet, knees and other joints. The parents I talked to say they are not overly keen on taking their family—especially small children— out on a trail that would expose their children to faster moving runners and bicyclists.

So far, all of this sounds to me, like a plan that is environmentally destructive, potentially unsafe and really doesn’t best meet the needs of those it is intended to serve.

And it is three times more expensive than originally planned.

But beyond these concerns, I find myself absolutely bewildered by the city council’s complete intransigence on this matter. City officials have never presented the revised version of the this multi-use trail plan in any full and forthright manner to the citizenry. They say the changes from the original plan to what is now a 12-foot concrete ‘roadway’ to the current plan involves only “details” that do not warrant a public review. They do not seem at all interested in considering any alternative suggestions. Further they appear to be and are apparently upset that someone would question this plan or suggest any changes after it has already been blessed by the city council.

There are some very reasonable and cost-conscious alternatives that should be considered before irreparable harm is done to the forest and the grounds of Brook Run Park. What about directing the new trails along already cleared, open ground where feasible? Perhaps build a separate bike path using, in part, the existing roads where possible? How about refurbishing the old trails, as originally planned, for jogging paths? These possibilities could make the park more attractive to the intended users and allow a reduction of the 12-foot width of concrete and the number of trees to be destroyed in both Phase I and Phase II.

The construction of the multi-use trail in Brook Run Park has recently been stopped by a temporary restraining order issued by the DeKalb County court. The court found that the hydrological study regarding creeks, runoff and drainage affecting neighboring property owners was so flawed as to warrant further consideration by the court. A hearing on this will be held in Decatur on Jan. 4.

We are building a great little city here and we need to do it right the first time. The idea of building trails in Brook Run Park is a good one and we need to move ahead. However, the idea of willfully destroying the natural environment in order to open it up so people can enjoy trails in a now decimated forest makes no sense.

We can have good, accessible trails for everyone to use—bikers, walkers, joggers and families with children. Unfortunately the city’s current plan does not do that.

But that’s just one gardener’s opinion.

I would urge everyone, whether you agree with me or not, to contact your the mayor and city council representative or the mayor to let them know your thoughts on this.

Jeff Coghill has been gardening in DeKalb County for more than 30 years and has probably killed at least one of each kind of plant he has tried before getting another one to thrive. He is a gardening volunteer at the Dunwoody Nature Center and works closely with members of the DeKalb Master Gardeners group. He can be reached at gardeningmatters@hotmail.com.

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