DARLINGTON—A proposed ATV route extension through a residential neighborhood in Darlington has a small group speaking out against the idea.
Marcia Aas and Kate Bausch, both of Cornelia Street, and Brian Findley of Louisa Street talked to local representatives and decided they needed to inform their neighborhood about the possibility of an ATV route being established on Division, East Cornelia and Clay streets to provide access to the Lafayette County Fairgrounds. The group went door-to-door in their community distributing a letter they co-wrote to explain the situation. The group wrote the letter on Nov. 10 and started distributing it throughout their neighborhood approximately a week later.
The route was discussed at an Oct. 4 Darlington City Council meeting where alderman Don Osterday told the council that he was approached by the Lafayette County Fair Committee to look into a potential ATV route that would connect the current trail to the campground at the Lafayette County Fairgrounds.
The city’s ordinance committee had a meeting Tuesday, Dec. 6, with the proposed trail on the agenda.
“We heard through the grapevine that this was being proposed,” Aas said. “We want people to be informed because most people that we talked to about it didn’t know about it.”
Findley said everybody the group has talked to was surprised to hear about the proposed route. Some they talked to were supportive of the route and expressed interest in using it themselves, but Findley said there were others who didn’t want the additional noise in their residential neighborhood. There are more than 20 houses along the proposed route.
“One of my concerns is that they don’t even know how many people would actually use this route,” Findley said. “After talking to some of the people on the council, I don’t think they think it would be a huge number, but I’m not sure I agree with that. It would be open to anybody who would want to drive through.”
Aas said it would be different to allow people in Darlington with ATVs to have access to get to the fairgrounds instead of having Division, Cornelia and Clay streets as part of the route open to everybody. She said she was concerned that if it happens in their neighborhood then eventually ATVs would be allowed throughout the city.
Bausch said she’s not against ATVs in the city.
“If they want to promote ATVs and it [ATV access to the fairgrounds] helps Darlington, then we should invest in a bridge,” Bausch said. “That would be more of a permanent solution.”
Bausch said she doesn’t feel the proposed trail is safe for ATV operators, nor is it safe for kids in the neighborhood. She said the hill on Division Street at Louisa Street was a potential problem because of low visibility at the intersection. A retaining wall blocks the view of traffic on Louisa Street.
Findley said other residents were concerned about the noise as the ATVs will have to “gun it” up a hill no matter which direction they’re coming from. Aas said it would be different if the land were flat.
“We’re not all upset, but we do want this discussed openly,” Findley said.
Aas said she wants public opinions heard about the trail.
“It should be discussed openly and reasonably,” Aas said. “And this shouldn’t be the only plan; there should be other options.”
Non-issue for police
The proposed trail does not pose many problems from the police standpoint. Police chief Jason King said he saw no issues with the proposal that was made.
“Noise from all vehicles are occasionally a source of complaints,” King said. “We rarely get complaints about ATV noise. It’s not a major issue.”
King said when the trail through Darlington was gravel there were more complaints. He said there have been a few ATV accidents, but “they’re so few that I can’t remember the last one.”
King said the busiest intersection in Darlington is at Alice and Main streets. He said in his 18 years with the police department he only remembers one ATV crash there.
King said there is no crash history at the intersection of Louisa and Division streets.
“It’s not an intersection of concern,” King said. “It’s a bad intersection because of visibility, but that only enhances the safety. People stop when it’s difficult to see. They stop and they creep out slowly.”
King said statewide data and research has shown that there’s no reason not to allow the trail extension.
“Communities that do it have economic benefits and very few problems,” King said. “There are 10,000 cars every day traveling through Darlington. Adding some ATVs is not enough to cause me to change the way we operate at the police department.”
King said not everything that was in the letter presented by Aas, Bausch and Findley was factual.
“I encourage people to curb their emotions and look at the data and then decide,” King said. “This idea may never come to fruition. Get the facts before getting worked up about it.”
King said the new portion of the trail wouldn’t increase the usage to the extent that extra police coverage would be needed.
City gathers public input
The Darlington City Council plans to hear from all sides about the proposed ATV trail.
“We need to keep in mind that this is a request from the county to increase the camping business at the fairgrounds,” mayor David Breunig said. “We’re just putting it out there waiting for public response.”
Breunig said he doesn’t care either way about the outcome.
“I’m neutral on the subject,” Breunig said. “The council will take into account what citizens want. I expect people from both sides to [share their opinions].”
Breunig said there is a group of citizens who want the entire city to be open to ATV traffic.
“We’ll listen and let the members of the council decide,” Breunig said. “I know some have concerns about safety and noise. But there is a time limit on how late they can be on the trail. If this gets approved there will be strict observance of that.”
Breunig said camping at the fairgrounds could see issues because of the stock car races on Friday nights. He said the campgrounds with ATV access in Darlington and Gratiot fill up quickly and “there aren’t too many other options in our area.”
Breunig said in the late 1990s Lafayette County turned down an option to build a bridge from the existing trail to the fairgrounds.