Little Gull Article

Why Saving  the Auburn Trail is Important

An Open Letter to RBA members from RBA members, and other nature lovers


Many RBA members have enjoyed birding the Auburn Trail.  It is unusually scenic and the trail (an old railroad bed) is flat with easy walking.  Birding can be excellent - as it was on the recent field trip for the 60th anniversary conference of NYSOA - when participants got terrific looks at up to 10 species of warbler. The trail hosts a great variety of migrants and nesting birds. Locally rare orange-crowned warblers are regular fall migrants. Mourning warblers, and ‘Brewsters’ are regular nesters.  An excellent variety of sparrows can often be seen in fall migration. In an outing, we have seen up to 8 sparrow species (5 in a one scope view) feeding on grass seeds in the meadow and getting grit in the trail cinders.  Postings to the Genesee Birding listserve since 2004 attest to the great birding.

So what is the threat?  The Town of Victor received a federal grant to develop the Auburn Trail Extension, which includes our area of concern, the Railroad Mills Special Environmental Area, or RRMSEA.  Victor is proposing a 6’ wide “multi-use trail” - wide enough for two bicycles to pass side by side – with additional two foot mowed grassy shoulders.  RBA is part of a Coalition (with Sierra Club, Burroughs Audubon, Genesee Audubon, and Rochester Butterfly Club) that is advocating the preservation of the unique habitat in the 3000’ RRMSEA section. The Coalition proposal is articulated in a Position Paper available on the RBA website at www.rochesterbirding.com.

The current footpath in RRMSEA is a 1’ wide, mostly cinder path, with a grassy verge – a linear meadow. This meadow is attractive to sparrows in migration, and has rich diversity of plants.  The abundance of nectar and caterpillar plants, and great butterflying, has made RRMSEA a regular field trip site for the Rochester Butterfly Club. 

The trail has low daily use.  Besides birders and nature lovers there are occasional local walkers, joggers, and bicycle riders. The overwhelming majority of trail users have stated they are opposed to Victor’s proposal to widen the trail.  Many comment not only on the birding and butterflying, but also the special ‘wilderness feeling’.

The railroad bed is quite narrow - only 10’ wide along much of the 3000’ stretch -  and much of it is surrounded by wetlands.  The proposed trail development would occupy much of the width, and the meadow would essentially be destroyed. The project could impact wetlands as well as state-threatened plant species, and the ‘wilderness feeling’ that so many users mention.  Yet Victor claims there will be no significant environmental impact.

The Coalition is recommending a compromise to a 3’ wide, ADA-compliant trail.  Victor asserts that a 3’ trail is unsafe, as bicyclists would have to move off the trail and pass on the grass.  We have pointed out that this has been done this for years with no safety issues.  Despite substantial opposition (Coalition group members alone number over 5000), Victor is hoping to receive approval of its plans and begin construction in 2009.

We birders enjoy seeing birds in the wild, and appreciate the importance and necessity of maintaining habitat. We know that sprawl and development continue to threaten and eliminate important bird habitat.  We have a chance to protect a unique area from destruction, and, hopefully, work cooperatively and creatively with the Town.  We encourage all RBA members (many of us have already signed a petition that has been sent to the grant administrators) and the RBA Board to continue to advocate for the preservation of this special trail, and urge Victor to scale back its plans.

 

Signed by the following RBA members, as well as coalition members and representatives of Sierra Club, Burroughs Audubon, and Rochester Butterfly Club.