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Trail problems reveal Silver’s growth 

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They were just going to make a new trail. Who could complain about that?

In the past, when town bureaucracy was slow, some trails activists felt that forgiveness was easier than permission. Cowboy trail making was pioneered by the late Herbie Marsden.

Well, those who follow town government and read letters on this page know that things have changed. Neighbors are in an uproar about improving informal trails from Starski Ridge (near the end of 19th Street and Ursa Major) down to Little Walnut Road.

The controversy offers potential lessons about projects that are part of the town’s 2013 Greenways and Big Ditch Master Plan, which proposes trails along Pinos Altos Creek and Silva Creek. Will similar objections be raised when those abstract plans start to get real?

The Starski Ridge controversy started when residents noticed blue ribbons marking a new trail. Those ribbons are still there, and you can follow them along a meandering route through brush. They avoid the informal trails, some of which are eroding on paths straight downhill.

Here are some of the objections neighbors have made at council meetings, in talks with their councilor and through letters to the editor: Some opponents are concerned about displacing wildlife. They report deer, fox, quail and rabbits. I saw a roadrunner during my visit.

But if animals don’t mind houses, they’re not likely to be frightened by hikers and cyclists. Deer, in particular, are not going anywhere. Life is hard in the wilderness; it’s easier next to the salad bars—your gardens. Animals certainly aren’t frightened off the San Vicente Trail or Boston Hill—not to mention the WNMU campus or many urban yards.

Another objection is that trails should avoid archaeological ruins, but the whole ridge appears to have been a Mimbres village. Many current houses and the town’s abandoned water tanks are built over ruins. You can find Mimbres potsherds next to the informal trail at the top of the ridge.

The solution is to honor and interpret our predecessors, not to pretend that we haven’t already built over their homes and graves.

Some neighbors want to preserve what they call a 20-acre nature preserve. Well, yes, a new kind of beauty has developed in the area, but it’s not exactly natural. Power lines and the town’s water maintenance facility disturb the view, as does what appears to be town storage of unused construction supplies. At the top of the ridge are two giant abandoned water tanks surrounded by a barbed wire fence.

In short, it’s the mix of natural and unnatural that you expect in a town. The Waterworks building and Virginia Street Park are visible, but so are hill cuts where both the town and county harvest fill material. The area has a spectacular cholla forest, but it’s growing on top of a waterline buried years ago to serve apartments at the bottom of the hill.

The argument for saving nature is dangerous, because the most unnatural features are streets and homes. If you like it natural, wouldn’t it be more so without your house? No, of course not.

In the national wilderness and the national forests, we adapt to the native animals and plants because that is their home. In town, animals and plants adapt to us, because this is our home. They’re OK with that.

Even Silver City places that appear natural are actually very different than they were before the town’s founding in 1870. It’s too late to fi ll in the Big Ditch and restore the cienega. Trails are a way to keep a civilized, urban version of nature. That doesn’t mean every proposed project will make sense after community discussion.

One neighbor, Anne Nitopi, put it this way: “I don’t want the project, but if you’re gonna do it, you’ve gotta do it right.”

That may be the only thing everyone agrees on. Trail proponents (including me) agree that it was a mistake not to involve the neighbors. I often attend the Trails and Open Space Committee as a concerned citizen. When this trail came up, I didn’t speak up in favor of community involvement. Neither did anyone else.

But you’ve got the committee’s attention now. The era of volunteering under the radar is over. Trail proponents are not giving up, but they are planning open houses and public meetings to explain their plans. Opponents may not be easily convinced. Living next to town open space doesn’t make it your private backyard, but it certainly should give you a seat at the table to express your objections.

Fortunately, this isn’t one of those Red versus Blue controversies where compromise is unthinkable. Maybe environmentalists on both sides can reach an agreement.

And at least there won’t be any more surprises.

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Southwest Word Fiesta™ or its steering committee.

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Bruce McKinney

Bruce McKinney is a Silver City business owner, close observer of local government and occasional troublemaker. In his column, which appears every other Wednesday, he tries to address big questions from a local perspective. Send comments and ideas to
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