Bike trail plan tabled

Jason Ferguson
If there is going to be a series of mountain bike trails in the Big Rock Park/Pageant Hill area, it won’t be in the near future.
At Monday evening’s regular meeting of the Custer City Council, the council voted unanimously to table the issue for six months, citing a litany of issues, including potential liability, the city’s bevy of projects already in the hopper and a desire for more clarification as to what the trails will entail and who they will affect.
More written comments were received, both in favor and opposed to the creation of the trails, and there were also people present at the meeting who spoke in favor of the trails, including Kathy Johnson, a resident in the park area, who said the city’s comprehensive plan calls for Custer to have more outdoor activities that make the city more walkable, bikeable and overall family friendly.
“This is a great thing for the City of Custer,” she said.
Brenda Poppins, who also lives near Big Rock Park, spoke in favor of the trails, saying she, her husband, her family and her friends would all enjoy mountain bike access to the park.
“To us it would be a huge benefit,” she said.
Alderwoman Peg Ryan said she walked the proposed bike trails and was glad to see it didn’t interfere too much with the existing walking trail, but said she has some concerns, including private land issues near the proposed French Creek Park trailhead and potential interference with the disc golf course on site.
Ryan said disc golfers who have chimed in on the potential trails are generally in favor of them, but she wants the city to make sure the mountain bike trails “do not impinge” on the disc golf course.
Alderwoman Jeannie Fischer said moving ahead with the trails would have to be done in a “methodical and careful” manner, and that the city has several other projects going on right now—the wastewater treatment plant, Harbach Park, community center, etc.—that could knock the mountain bike trails down the priority list.
City attorney Chris Beesley agreed the trails need a lot more planning and wondered if the land capacity is available at the site to make it enjoyable and safe for all of the multipurpose uses. He also said there is potential liability for the city, saying the more the city is involved in the development, maintenance, etc., the more liability it assumes.
Alderman Todd Pechota said he doesn’t dispute the potential value of the trails, but said in talking to some of the people in the area, the overwhelming response he received is that there is significant concern on the impact on the quality of life.
Charley Umbarger, who spearheaded the project, said he would be happy to work with neighbors, disc golfers, etc., to alleviate their concerns, but that those interested in moving ahead with the trails would need an affirmation from the city to move ahead with a meaningful design phase and fundraising.
Beesley cautioned the city against supporting any fundraising efforts before giving the project their approval, questioning where the money raised would go if the trails aren’t approved.
Some on the council wondered if putting another iron in the fire would stress city staff even further. City planning administrator Tim Hartmann said even if the project is done by mostly volunteers, there would still be staff work needed, again referencing all the other projects the city is in the middle of as time consuming as well. He said not being able to get everything addressed by city administration is a concern.
“There are only so many hours in the day,” he said.
The council initially considered tabling the project for a year, but ultimately decided on six months, saying it allows the council time to get further on other projects before considering any proposal supporters of the project work on between now and then. The council will review any work done by the group in the spring.
Umbarger said after the meeting he intends to continue to develop and design the trail network for the spring presentation.
Trails in the system, which could be up to eight miles, would vary from moderate to expert and could include a skills loop and a climbing trail riders would use to get to the top before deciding which level they want to use to get to the bottom of the hill. Access to the climbing trail would be in the French Creek Park area, so that area and Washington Street would be where vehicles would be parked for access.
In other news from the Oct. 7 meeting, the council:
• Approved a request for the Custer High School homecoming parade route, but not before bringing up an incident from last year’s parade when the high school’s student council did not provide personnel to pick up horse excrement left behind. Fischer said she spoke with student council advisor Sandy Arseneault about the issue, who assured her there are no animals in this year’s parade.
Mayor Corbin Herman voiced his displeasure with the incident as well, particularly toward what he said was blatant disrepect in refusal to clean up the mess post-parade.
“That will not be tolerated this year,” he said.
• Approved giving the 1881 Courthouse Museum $2,500 more to offset losses suffered from it not being able to be open full-time over the summer due to COVID-19. Custer County also gave the museum additional funding.
• Learned from Hartmann the revised comprehensive plan will be available for a public hearing and potential adoption at the council’s first meeting in November.
• Learned from Hartmann there have been 136 roofing permits issued in the city since July 1.
“That hail was bad,” he said.
• Heard from Herman via computer, as he is in the latter stages of quarantine due to exposure to COVID-19.

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