A Recreational Trail Portrayed as a Transportation Facility 

Why has this project reached such an extreme level of public and environmental controversy? 

Perhaps because the Auburn Trail Extension is a highly valued Recreational Trail that has been incorrectly represented as a Transportation project. 

The Auburn Trail Extension is not a transportation project. It is a recreational trail that was packaged as transportation in order to capture federal funding to repair a damaged culvert. The Auburn Trail Extension gets relatively low use, nearly all of which is recreational. 

The extension project begins at the outskirts of the town, passes through a sparsely populated area and ends at Powder Mills Park, where bicycles are not permitted on trails. It is a trail to nowhere. Only on paper does it link to a larger transportation system. Pittsford’s recently adopted 2009 Comprehensive Plan does not include any continuation of the trail. The trail doesn’t connect activity centers. 

The primary use of this trail is for recreation, not transportation. 

  1. Contrary to the claim in the draft EA, Victor’s Parks and Recreation Department master plan supports this as a recreation, not transportation project. The 2007 Recreation Master Plan states, “There is a significant need to connect parks and neighborhoods by walking/biking or sidewalks so that those of all ages have access to recreational opportunities.” 
  2. Victor Hiking Trails is an active promoter of trails in Victor, whose stated purpose is recreation: Our purpose is to develop a trail system which will preserve open space and provide an educational and recreational experience for everyone in the town of Victor. 
  3. RG & E Easement Contract - The trail easement given the town from RG&E stipulates the recreational use of the facility. “...for the use and benefit of the public for the purpose of walking, hiking, jogging and cross country skiing trails in order to enhance the conservation and enjoyment of natural or scenic resources....” 
  4. A Long-Used Recreation Trail - Neighbors, nature lovers, walkers, dog walkers, bicyclists, and runners have used this trail for recreation for many years before this project began. Burroughs Audubon Nature Club (BANC), a 97 year neighbor, has valued and used it to study nature – for decades. Many other outdoor clubs have long used it for a place to enjoy an outing, study nature or other recreational pursuits. 
It is listed in "Best Easy Day Hikes, Rochester", by Randi Minetor/Falcon Press. The book highlights it as one of the top 20 easy, recreational, trails in the Rochester area. It is the only trail recognized in Ontario County. 

The Lure of Federal Dollars

Federal dollars are compelling. TEP Guidelines stipulate: “No bicycle project may be carried out unless it will be principally for transportation rather than recreation purposes.” TEP Guidelines refer readers to another site to apply for “recreational trail” grants. However, transportation grants typically offer significantly larger awards than ones for recreation. 

Despite its known use as a recreational trail, the Town claimed, in its application for funding, that it was a transportation project in order to garner federal funding. (It also stated “no opposition is expected” and neglected to mention any environmental issues.) 

Inaccurate and Misleading Information: 2006 Grant Application and the Draft EA 

The Grant Application was written to match the project to the requirements of a transportation grant. The grant writers often paraphrased the TEP guidelines as rationale for their project, without providing additional supporting information. 

Although TEP guidelines for connectivity state that the trail must connect “activity centers” and/or provide a link in a continuous system that connects to such destination, the Auburn Trail Extension does neither. The trail ends at a small parking lot at Powder Mill Park where bicycles are not allowed on trails. Pittsford’s 2009 Comprehensive Plan does not mention the continuation of the trail. The connectivity of the project was misrepresented in the grant application and the draft EA. 

A Transportation Project should have sufficient usage. Although the application claimed heavy usage (75 users/day) - there are no usage counts to back that up. Coalition counts indicated 5 - 10 users/day during spring/summer/fall of 2009. Trail usage was misrepresented in the grant application. Although the grant application claimed people would use the trail to commute, that statement is based on no provided data. It is purely speculative and highly unlikely. The data show the trail was, is, and will continue to be a relatively lightly used recreational trail. 

The draft EA states that “bicycle traffic is expected to be low,” contrasting with the the claims in the original grant application. How does low bicycle traffic support a transportation project? 

Nearly 100% of the comments submitted for the project speak to its use as a recreational trail. Those comments are not addressed in the Draft EA. 

Although the TEP grant application, and the Draft EA attempt to portray this project as a transportation project, any objective analysis will show it to be a recreational trail that needs a culvert replaced. 

The project fails to meet the primary stipulation for TEP awards: No bicycle project may be carried out unless it will be principally for transportation rather than recreation purposes. 
  1. The trail connects only to a parking lot at the edge of a park - not meeting connectivity guidelines. 
  2. The Master Plans, Mission Statements support recreation, not transportation. 
  3. The primary use of the trail - by supporters and those opposed - is recreational. 
  4. Nearly all of the comments submitted for this project speak about recreation - not about commuting, connectivity, or replacing transportation use of their cars. 

The strong opposition to this project - more for this TEP project than any other in the state - may stem from the failure of the sponsor to recognize this usage and seek a grant that fits the project, rather than force-fitting the incorrect grant to the existing project. 

This recreational trail has been mischaracterized as a transportation project. It does not meet the criteria necessary for this transportation grant. The project should not be funded with Federal transportation money, as the evidence shows that the extension is used primarily for recreation, not transportation. The grant application misrepresented the project as a transportation project solely to capture available federal funding. The draft EA continues the misrepresentation.