I do not envy the Frankfort city commissioners.
They must make decisions that in many cases result in one side of the issue being satisfied and the other side being disgruntled. But the hike/bike trails on Fort Hill was not that type of situation. There was an obvious and easy middle ground that would have been a win-win for our city.
When I first heard about building bike trails on Fort Hill, I was opposed to it. Why go to the expense of building bike trails on top of the hill? But I went to the first city commission meeting to listen and learn from the public input, which I dare say is more than Commissioner Scott Tippett did. Before public comments, he said he was there to listen to the public, but first he read into the record his manifesto in opposition to the hike/bike trails.
As I listened to each speaker, I learned a lot. First, the trails are only for bicycles — no motorcycles are permitted. Second, the historic section makes up only a small part of Leslie Morris Park at Fort Hill. Third, the trails would come no closer than 3/10ths of a mile from the historic section. Fourth, the cost of installing the trails was not being paid by the city but by private donations. Fifth, there is a serious mountain biking community that seeks out trails, such as those proposed, and then spends money in the shops and restaurants of that town.
But what about the argument against the trails? One speaker said that Fort Hill is our only park that is surrounded by the city, and therefore we should not put trails there. What? That sounds like a great place to put trails.
Kids who are too young to drive a car could ride their bikes up to Fort Hill and enjoy the trails. The existing mountain bike trails in Frankfort are a long way from downtown and not realistically accessible by teens. If there were concerns about bicycles potentially going over a quarter-mile off the trail and damaging the earthworks, then a simple, historically appropriate split-rail fence could be erected to warn them away.
Russ Hatter gave an informative history lesson about what transpired in Frankfort in 1864 and how Fort Hill was used to defend the city. He concluded that it would dishonor the memory of the people who fought there. As much as I respect Hatter, I don’t think he can speak for the dead. I think those brave defenders of Frankfort would want our city to thrive and grow and would welcome hike bike trails on Fort Hill so people could enjoy themselves and maybe learn about Frankfort’s history in doing so.
The erection of trails along with a split-rail fence should satisfy both sides of the debate. It permits building of the trails while preserving the historic area — and maybe would teach more people about our city’s Civil War history.
Now I didn’t expect Commissioners John Sower and Tippett to see the benefits of this win-win solution, and of course they didn’t. And I was pleased to see that our new commissioners, Katrisha Waldridge and Eric Whisman, could see the benefits these trails would bring to the citizens and businesses of Frankfort.
But I was especially disappointed in Mayor Bill May. I would like to think he is wise enough to see the benefits (and lack of drawbacks) of hike/bike trails, but rather than make the right decision, he was more concerned about politics and the votes he might lose in the next election. If he can’t see a win-win decision when it is staring him in the face, then maybe we need a new mayor.
Richard Rosen moved to Frankfort in 2010 and works for a Minnesota-based agriculture corporation. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.