The plan to pave the Bug Line Trail from the Falls to Merton isn't new, but like most anything in Wisconsin these days, it faces newly hatched opposition.
In the May 16, 2012 edition of the Sussex Sun, Joan Griffin of her "Friends of the Bugline" group is quoted as saying "The biggest reason not to do it is that the majority of the people, plain and simple, do not want it." Her source for that data is not cited. She's collected about 1,000 signatures opposing the paving, though the same Sun article points out that more than 70,000 people live near the trail.
Dave Burch, speaking on behalf of the paving project, said that ADA compliance is one of the biggest reasons to pave the trail. ADA refers to the Americans with Disabilities Act. Signed into law in 1990, it affirms the rights of a minority of the population who face a wide variety of special challenges: blindness, deafness, mobility, dexterity, etc.
Like the passage of other civil rights legislation before it, it recognizes that discrimination of a particular class of people occurs, and is inherently contrary to America's founding principles. Indeed, America is at her best when she recognizes the contributions and worth of her diverse population.
"The biggest reason not to do it is that the majority of the people, plain and simple, do not want it." If that's the biggest reason, Griffin's movement is in trouble. When people fail to accomodate minority rights, it is the obligation of government to assert that all men are created equal.
ADA compliance makes one strong case for paving the Bugline, and it's one that Friends of the Bugline dare not oppose. If Griffin's group were to come out and say they didn't want wheelchairs on the trail, one hopes they'd have a hard time collecting signatures, particularly at the churches some said they'd bring the petitions to (see this). Such a statement would amount to bigotry.
I don't believe limiting access to the trail is Griffin's intent. From what I've read from her on Patch, she appears to believe that wheelchairs are just fine on the trail as-is, and that there are plenty of paved trails elsewhere, anyway. She's not entirely wrong, but not entirely right, either.
Is limestone gravel really an impediment to wheelchair use? Wheelchairs vary in their ability to cope with rough terrain, but certainly gravel can present a problem. My wife's electric wheelchair can cope with the densely packed areas, at least, but it is not a comfortable ride for her; the smallish tires make it bumpy and unpleasant. My wife can't use a manual wheelchair on her own, but I'm fairly certain that trying to self-propel a manual wheelchair on the current Bug Line would take a fair amount of stamina over any great distance.
My wife and I also have a bicycle of sorts: the front end is basically a detachable wheelchair that rocks back onto two wheels, and the back half looks like a conventional bicycle that I can sit on and pedal for both of us, steering by turning the wheelchair half. This works marvelously well on paved surfaces, but it is awful on any lesser surface.
Disabilities and mobility equipment vary, but one thing is certain: paving the Bugline will improve its accessibility.
The contraption itself weighs about 85 pounds, plus my wife's weight, plus mine. I'm healthy enough, but at 150 pounds, it takes some effort to keep that thing moving; and, again, my wife finds unpaved trails too bumpy to enjoy. We've given up on the current Bugline for this bike; we have to haul it out to Fox Brook Park and content ourselves with pedalling around the pond, or head out to Waukesha's Glacial Drumlin trail to enjoy it. It'd be great to just pedal a couple blocks to get on a paved Bugline.
Disabilities and mobility equipment vary, but one thing is certain: paving the Bugline will improve its accessibility. It will also open the trail to skateboarders, inline skaters, and any kind of stroller. County Supervisor Jim Jeskewitz was quoted as saying "The amount of participation almost doubles on the other paths that we’ve paved throughout the county."
That may speak more to the heart of Griffin's concerns, and those of many current trail users: they don't want the increased traffic. Certainly there are legitimate concerns here, like bicyclists using the trail at speeds that put other users at risk. On the other hand, some petition signers would probably prefer less people on the trail, regardless of their activity, but the Waukesha County Park system is not an exclusive country club. Equal access is a vital consideration, regardless of how many opposing signatures are collected.
Some petition signers would probably prefer less people on the trail, regardless of their activity, but the Waukesha County Park system is not an exclusive country club.
Some other concerns are less credible, such as damaging the natural beauty of the trail. Apparently, some residents believe that crushed limestone trails cutting through the woods are a natural phenomenon, and somehow less manmade than a paved surface. This argument should not sway county executives; the beauty of the trail is not its surface, but the surrounding scenery. Enjoying truly natural beauty requires one to leave a trail, and Wisconsin affords many opportunities to do this.
Still others are concerned about the cost of the project. The Sun article states that 63% of the total would be funded by Federal Transportation Enhancement funding, and if the county doesn't take advantage of the funds they'll be spent elsewhere. I think it'd be a pity if Griffin's crusade shuts down this opportunity to make the Bugline more accessible.
From where I stand, if they pave it, great; if not, well, life goes on. It's not a life-or-death issue. I don't have the time to organize opposition to Griffin's opposition. Her passion for this is admirable.
But this is Wisconsin, after all, where angry people gather, grumble, sign petitions, organize recall efforts, and deface one another's political signs. Here's another snip from Griffin: "Personally, I am outraged at the idea of paving it."
And then there's this: "'Alright, so who woke up one day and said we needed to pave this trail? Name the person,' demanded Jim Ziolecki of a county official who was obviously caught off guard by the intensity of the question. 'If it was the County Board, was there a public outcry to pave the trail? Answer my question!'"
Outrage. Public outcry. Lovely. Just read some of the (mostly psuedonymous) comments on the Patch articles referenced above; the anger is palpable. It's a sad state of affairs.
The beauty of Wisconsin is disappearing, no doubt -- not so much under pavement, but through the erosion of civil discourse.