Coalition Vision for a Model Trail Section

I. The Rationale for a Design Exception 
For a Narrower Trail Width 

A. User Preference.

RRMSEA is widely known as an exceptional place to experience nature up close. While one can view nature in many local venues, the particular geography, location, and diversity of habitat and biota, make RRMSEA unique in offering people the opportunity for close-up interactions and experiences with nature. It is a reason there has been such public outcry to preserve the area.

The Coalition to Save RRMSEA consists of five major environmental groups with over 5000 members locally.

Birders, one of the fastest growing outdoor groups, have a substantial economic impact on the communities they visit. The Rochester Birding Association (RBA) lists RRMSEA as one of the region’s birding hotspots. Birders frequent the trail, and it is a regular destination for club field trips. RBA supports a narrow trail width, which would preserve important meadow habitat. The destruction of the linear meadow would affect both birds and birders.

Butterfliers are another rapidly growing group of outdoor enthusiasts. The Rochester Butterfly Club (RBC) research data show that RRMSEA is one of the top five local places to observe butterflies. It is a club field trip destination. A 6’ width will eliminate over 50% of the linear meadow, where both nectar plants, and host plants (those used for egg laying which are vital for butterfly reproduction) grow. RBC supports a narrower trail width. If a 6’ width is approved, the habitat destruction will make the site unsuitable for field trips.

Burroughs Audubon Nature Club (BANC) is an adjacent Victor neighbor and stakeholder. BANC has valued RRMSEA for decades as a place for nature walks and environmental education – one of the Club’s missions. It has been a long-standing advocate for the protection of RRMSEA, and supports minimal change to the trail width.

Two chapters of large national organizations, the Genesee Valley Audubon Society, and Rochester Regional Group of the Sierra Club, have been long time supporters of habitat preservation, and prudent development. These groups, with thousands of local members, are opposed to the proposed overwidening of the trail.

Many other groups and institutions use the trail: Retired Teachers, MCC classes, Osher Lifelong Learning at RIT, Oven Door Runners, and others. These groups value the area for its unique opportunities for environmental education and its unique ambience. Other users - bicyclists, neighbors, dog walkers, and hundreds of others - have submitted comments that support keeping the trail narrow, to maintain the unique environment and user experience.

The 6’ proposal will have negative social impacts by adversely impacting the majority of existing trail users and neighbors who use and treasure the area now. The 6’ proposal for RRMSEA will eliminate one important quality that so many users comment upon - nature up close – by the replacing the narrow footpath that runs through the linear meadow of grasses and wildflowers, with a wide, sterile, stonedust bike path. It will result in habitat destruction and degrade the area’s scenic aesthetics, one of its main attractions.

In summary, as Table 1 illustrates, organization letters and position papers, petitions including neighboring land owners, and the many written comments submitted to the Town Board and the consultant overwhelmingly favor a narrower trail in RRMSEA.

B. Environmental Impacts.

There are serious environmental concerns with the consultant’s proposed 6’ width alternative. It will destroy more than 50% of the linear meadow[1], the vegetated area to either side of the existing footpath. This will impact birds and butterflies. Several species of sparrows and finches, towhees and many other birds feed on the ground in the linear meadow, especially in migration. They are feeding on seeds of grasses, sedges, and wildflowers and getting grit in the cinders. They are often concentrated in this narrow meadow, affording birders an exceptional viewing opportunity. They would be displaced, and the birder experience diminished. Many butterflies alight to feed and lay eggs in the linear meadow. The destruction of the meadow habitat will eliminate this.

The Upper Irondequoit Creek Valley is an area of rich biodiversity. Its extraordinary plant diversity was recognized in a botanical study done for the Town of Victor more than 30 years ago; more recently it has been recognized by Stephen Young, Chief Botanist for the NYS Natural Heritage Program. The NYS Flora Association has chosen RRMSEA as one of just a few sites to visit in 2009, to observe a great variety of plants - including rare ones.

The 6’ width alternative will greatly increase risk to the three known NYS-threatened species. Two of these species grow directly in the rail bed, in close proximity to the existing 1’ wide footpath. The very small population of the rarest of these species could be completely eliminated.

[1] In the SEQR EAF the sponsor states that the original acreage of “meadow or brushland” is 5.54 acres; it will be 1.98 at completion. A little arithmetic shows that over 64% of "meadow or brushland" is gone.

C. Projected Future Use.

In the Draft Design Report (III.C.2.A) the Consultant states that future traffic will be low, to support its justification for a design exception for a 6’ width. We concur, and go further by stating that the low projected use supports a design exception for an even narrower width. A narrower width protects the sensitive environment, supports user preference, and offers the opportunity to develop the trail into an environmental and educational showcase.

Go to Next Section:  II. Comparison of Alternatives