March 7, 2012

COE Proposes New Trail in Mulholland Wildflower Preserve

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Cornell Outdoor Education is seeking approval from the Ithaca Natural Areas Commission to create a new trail in the Mulholland Wildflower Preserve in the Six Mile Creek Gorge. The commission will vote at a meeting on March 12, and, if approved, COE will begin work on the trail on May 18.The proposed trail will be an eighth of a mile long and will connect two existing trails in the preserve, according to Todd Miner, executive director of COE. Currently, there is only one connection between the two existing trails, and “because of that, people have created their own trails, and in places that aren’t environmentally appropriate,” Miner said.According to Miner, the trails that the public have been creating are “doing damage to the trees” and are not “accessible to Ma and Pa.”If approved, the new trail will ascend almost 200 vertical feet and will include one set of steps as well as water bars — a construction tool used to reduce erosion on woodland paths — Miner said. Volunteers will also add signs and cover makeshift trails that had been made by visitors to the preserve.Miner said he believes 90 percent of the project can be completed in one day. He cited a rainy day in November when 20 people from COE, the Cayuga Trails Club and the Natural Areas Commission came out to help work on another trail project.Although many students will have left campus by the time work on the new trail commences in May, Miner said that seniors and Outdoor Odyssey guides will still be on-campus.“We’re hoping to have students, staff and alumni … all working together side by side to improve our backyard resources,” he said.Ethan Joseph ’14 said that he had confidence in Cornell Outdoor Education’s ability to complete the project. Joseph said that he had spent some time trail-building with Outdoor Odyssey and that the group was always productive and had the right tools for the job.Six Mile Creek divides Ithaca’s East Hill and South Hill neighborhoods, and its proximity to Ithaca College, Cornell and downtown Ithaca makes the gorge’s trails a popular hiking spot for students and locals.Miner said that he thinks the trails might get 100 people a day on the weekends. However, Miner said that “what most people don’t know is that … it’s not the park service or the city or the state that makes the trails, it’s volunteers.”Many visitors to the Six Mile Creek Gorge Trail have responded positively to the proposed plan.Joe McMahon, chair of Ithaca’s Natural Areas Commission said the project was “a great idea” and that the area is “a beautiful spot for a trail.”Charlotte Ambrozek ’13, a Cornell Outdoor Education instructor who said she has run on the Six Mile Creek Gorge Trail many times, expressed enthusiasm for the project and said that she was looking forward to having a new trail.However, McMahon said the project has encountered resistance from some members of the Natural Areas Commission who have argued that, as a result of the plan, more people might begin using parts of the existing trails and damage them through overuse. Supporters of the project agree that building the new trail may increase the number of users, but counter that having hikers and runners on a proper trail is better for the environment than having them on unauthorized trails.The wildflower preserve gets “way more use than it can accommodate,” and people going off trail are doing damage to the environment, according to McMahon.McMahon said he was surprised that the project was not  wholeheartedly embraced at the commission’s last meeting on Feb. 13 and that he had not expected people to raise as many concerns as they did.Miner was cautiously optimistic that the project would get approved, while McMahon said he was not sure he could predict the outcome of the commission’s vote.

Original Author: Wesley Rogers