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Crystal Trail benefits outweigh the risks

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Dear Editor:

As a Redstone resident and member of the Crystal River Caucus, I respect Delia Malone’s scientific credentials, viewpoints and passion, and share her concerns about the welfare of wildlife and vegetation in our valley. However, I am also a scientist and my own conclusions concerning a recreational trail are informed by that perspective. As an experimental physicist, my research career involved extracting a signal from a specific atomic or molecular process that was embedded in a background due to competing processes. From my perspective, the effect of a trail on wildlife and vegetation may be considered to be the signal, and the effects of the highway, traffic, residential and commercial development together constitute the background.

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During the past two years I have attended numerous presentations by experts and read several technical reports on this subject, including one co-authored by Delia Malone. The studies and data together indicate that the impact of recreational trails on wildlife and vegetation are small compared to those of a highway, traffic, and associated agricultural, residential and commercial development. Statistical data indicate that approximately 7,000 wild animals, mostly deer and elk, are killed on Colorado highways each year. On average, one wild animal is killed per mile per year by vehicles traveling on CO-133 in the Crystal River Valley. In contrast, the risk of death or injury to wildlife due to walkers, cyclists or equestrians on a recreational trail is almost zero. Seasonal closures of environmentally sensitive areas such as Filoha Meadows are already in place and would not change if a trail were developed.

Nearly independently of the chosen alignments, a recreational trail in our valley would lie largely within the 100-meter zone of influence of highway 133, the standard measure applied by ecologists to assess impacts. After examining the data, my conclusion as a scientist is that the signal-to-background ratio is small in this case, and therefore the INCREMENTAL effect of a recreational trail on wildlife and vegetation in the highway corridor would be small.

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In my view, the potential benefits of a recreational trail to residents, visitors and businesses in the Crystal Valley far outweigh the risks, and the process and efforts by Pitkin County Open Space and Trails to inform and engage the public have been outstanding.

Ron Phaneuf

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