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E-M:/ Dearborn Bike Trail Opposed by Environmentalists

Enviro-Mich message from Smileysmlc@aol.com


Contact information:
Rochelle Breitenbach, President, Detroit Audubon Society
    586-202-6498; RB18carrot@aol.com
Jack Smiley, Vice President, Detroit Audubon Society 
    313-582-8377; Smileysmlc@aol.com
Bill Craig, President, Holliday Nature Preserve Association
    248-476-5127; envirowhc@netzero.com
Christopher Graham, Chairman of the Board, Michigan Environmental   Council 
    734-975-7800; grahamz@umich.edu
Andrew J. Hartz, MDEQ-Land and Water Management Division
    586-753-3867; Hartza@michigan.gov
Beverly Watts, Director, Wayne County Parks

Environmentalists Gear up to 
Derail Bike Path

Environmentalists generally support bike trails in a community.  They provide 
healthy transportation and recreation opportunities and reduce our reliance 
on fossil fuels.  But the bike path proposed to dissect the Henry Ford Estate 
in Dearborn is gathering a storm of protest.

Wayne County and the University of Michigan-Dearborn are the principal 
proponents of constructing a paved bike trail from Ford Road to Michigan Avenue, 
linking the bike path along Hines Drive to West Dearborn.  Two new bridges are 
proposed to be constructed across the Rouge River, and much of the pathway is 
proposed to be built in the forested river floodplain.

?From an environmental and historical standpoint, this is the most 
significant natural area remaining in the Rouge River watershed?, states Rochelle 
Breitenbach, President of the Detroit Audubon Society.  ?As proposed, this bike 
trail would needlessly destroy a great natural habitat which is essential for 
wildlife, especially for resident and migratory birds.  We need to do our utmost 
to preserve this area for future generations.?

The land in question has long been a protected wildlife preserve.  All of the 
land over which the bike path is proposed was owned by Henry and Clara Ford 
as part of their Fair Lane Estate.  ?Although Henry Ford is most known as a 
great industrialist, he also shared a strong passion for wildlife,? said 
Breitenbach.  According to U of M-Dearborn publications, a number of bird baths and 
bird houses were featured at Fair Lane, and the Fords regularly observed bird 
life through a telescope on their porch.  ?Henry Ford was such an avid bird 
watcher that he also played a major role in the passage of the Migratory Bird 
Treaty Act, which was the cornerstone of bird protection efforts in the early 
1900s,? said Breitenbach. 

The wildlife preserve assembled by Henry Ford continues to serve as an 
important refuge for deer, fox, amphibians, reptiles, and bird life.  Jack Smiley, 
Vice President of Detroit Audubon, is also concerned with what he calls 
?needless destruction?.  ?Thirty years ago, I was involved with a group which 
successfully fought back Wayne County?s attempt to extend Hines Drive from Ford Road 
to Michigan Avenue, and to channelize the Rouge River north of Michigan 
Avenue,? said Smiley.  ?Citizens overwhelmingly opposed the destruction of this 
irreplaceable habitat and we were hopeful that this area would be preserved for 
all time as it deserves to be.?

Bill Craig, a noted activist for the Rouge River and President of the 
Holliday Nature Preserve Association, questions the ability of Wayne County to 
properly maintain more trails.  ?We have dilapidated bridges and facilities 
throughout Wayne County parks, and now they want to build more?  They should fix up 
what they have and use the existing road bridges for the bike path.?

Hopes were fading to protect the forested floodplain after Ed Begale, Vice 
Chancellor for Government Relations at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, was 
recently quoted in a newspaper article stating that ?The bulldozers will be he
re next week.?

That spurred Jack Smiley to call the Michigan Department of Environmental 
Quality (MDEQ) to check on the status of the project?s permit.  Smiley was 
surprised to be told that a permit had not yet been issued for the project.

Andrew Hartz, MDEQ Field Representative for Southeastern Michigan, indicated 
that Wayne County Parks applied for a permit for the bike path in April of 
2004, but never replied to a request for more information in a letter sent to 
them in June of 2004.  Mr. Hartz said that the permit file was closed in March, 
2005, after they failed to respond.

?This may be our lucky break?, exclaimed Smiley.  ?Proponents of the bike 
path have avoided our call to work out a compromise at every turn, but maybe now 
we can get their attention.?   Rochelle Breitenbach echoed Smiley?s hopes.  
?We don?t want to stop the bike path--we want to make sure that it doesn?t go 
through the sensitive floodplain forest.  The  cyclists I know care about the 
environment and would prefer to bike along, rather than through, the woods, 
knowing that critical and sensitive  habitat had been spared.?

Christopher Graham, Chairman of the Board of the Michigan Environmental 
Council and Treasurer of the Michigan Natural Areas Council is familiar with the 
perils of bike paths.  He is among a group working to prevent a bike path 
proposed to be built through a mature floodplain forest in Hudson Mills Metropark.  
?To construct some sort of bike roadway across an intact and healthy 
floodplain, at the confluence of the Main and Lower branches of the Rouge, seems 
completely counterproductive not only to the overall goal of protecting and 
sustaining what very little is left of the region's high quality natural features, but 
to the goal of NOT increasing flooding and erosion in the Rouge.?

Graham has also served for many years on Ann Arbor's Natural Features 
Ordinance Committee and has served as an Ann Arbor Planning Commissioner.  ?This 
project would NOT be approved in Ann Arbor,? said Graham.  ?Damage to highly 
valued natural features would be considered way to great in relation to the public 
benefit that would be derived from the project.?
Graham is also concerned about the immediate impact the proposed bike trail 
will have upon bird populations.  ?A long running and very important piece of 
bird research goes on within the confines of this property,? said Graham.  
?Fragmentation via this sort of proposal will unquestionably degrade and diminish 
bird life there -- and the value of this very important project.?

?There is no reason to enter the undisturbed portions of this property with 
machinery to build a bike trail, roads, fish ladders, or anything else,? said 
Graham.  ?I would, of course, be quite supportive of a bike trail in a location 
which does not infringe upon valuable natural features.?

Opponents of the bike trail?s location see protection of the rare, high 
quality natural habitat as the highest priority, but they also feel it is a matter 
of common sense.  ?Rerouting the bike path could save a ton of money,? said Sm
iley.  ?If Wayne County officials want our support for the parks millage 
renewal this fall, they should listen carefully to the people who care the most 
about our parks and natural areas.?

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