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Path of Destruction

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karl.qxd

I have just visited Chicago to gloat at my "illustrated" version of the city's skyline on a billboard atop the Morton Salt building. After bouncing back and forth under the Kennedy to get the perfect camera angle, the photos taken, it was now time to enjoy your great city.

After a full day of taking in the essence of Chicago, we wandered back to the motel and up to the roof around sunset. For the first time it dawned on me how flat the area was, and how the view looking west lacked any hint of rolling green hillsides. Ironically, I brought a copy of the Reader to browse through, when I came across the trail article, "Paved With Good Intentions" [July 10]. And ironically, besides being a freelance illustrator, I am also a U.S. Forest Service qualified trail builder and founder of Missouri's first trail organization.

I am familiar with various groups going after federal monies for these types of trails. They are not really trails but rather roads where motorized vehicles are supposedly not allowed. This type of concept works great, say, for a link within a rails-to-trails conversion, where the trail actually connects to a greater network. The idea with the federally funded trail is that it can be used by would-be commuters as a means of alternative transportation.

The notion of this type of trail running through the forest preserve and surrounding area seems to make absolutely no sense whatsoever. The first thing you look at in trail building is the purpose, use, and type of trail needed. You've got a group of people who have just spent $300,000 and are still scratching their heads. Additionally, with this federally funded trail, you are required to build to the federal specifications, which in this case would be environmentally damaging and such an overkill for what that area needs (if any type of trail is actually needed at all). Looking at a map, I see how close this city is to the airport. Do you know how much sound those trees absorb, or how much sound that new pavement will bounce around? You would be surprised.

I work on natural surface (multiple-use) trails that sustain the use of hikers, bikers, runners, and equestrians and average between three and five feet wide. As far as trail-user conflict, that's not even a good argument. There is always a presence of friction in every aspect of everyday life. You want user conflict? Get in the way of one of your cabdrivers downtown.

When you introduce something like this that is publicly accessible, part of its success or failure is how it is managed. While conceiving the physical aspects of this asphalt phenomenon, is anyone looking at trail-use rules and policies, or what is acceptable public conduct? Who will enforce them? And what is the alternate route for trail users when the trail is underwater? You would be amazed how inventive trail users can be in such a situation. If they want to go from point A to B, they will forge a new shortcut to get to where they want to go regardless of who owns the property. Remember, humans don't like to be inconvenienced.

As much as some of your land managers might disagree with this whole thing, don't expect anyone to step up on the podium and denounce the project. This is one of those gray areas of unwritten code among all the land managers I've met. You nod your head yes to whatever is sent down from the top, and you never go above your boss for anything. "Nature" areas like this feel the political pressures, since their survival is dependent on state, county, city, and federal (taxpayer) money.

It's sad that you have people like Patrick Deady and Frank Paris pushing these random buttons to justify their existence. You think Frank will ever be seen out on the trail? Sure--he'll feel like he has some unique privilege to drive his car out there. With comments like "a paved trail would make it easier to root out teen drinking parties," the man obviously hasn't a clue. This may sound crazy, Frank, but what would you think of our kids being educated about drug and alcohol abuse before they're old enough to hit the trails? I think your areas would be quickly devoid of partyers when there are $100 fines issued for trespassing, or you wait until 4 AM to call the parents to come get their kids at the police station. If the cops are that unresponsive, residents might consider forming their own patrol.

Without any real legal response for the residents now, this new trail project would invite an all-out free-for-all. The result would be disastrous in every aspect should this somehow move forward. With a natural area located within a metropolis such as Chicago, I will be glad to offer my consultative services for under $300,000.

Leave it alone.

Kevin Karl

Saint Louis

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