We are in the process of developing our detailed comments to Team McEuen regarding the proposals for McEuen Park. Over the next few days, we’ll roll out some of our thoughts and concerns relating to the proposal here on the blog. Today: Tubbs Hill.
Indeed, one of the more controversial aspects of the Team McEuen design is that a number of proposed features impact Tubbs Hill. The designers have proposed an accessible trail across the north face of Tubbs Hill, enhanced trailheads with structures and water features, an observation platform, and a sledding hill. The designers have explained that the Tubbs features help the designers with their charge to provide the “greatest number of uses for the greatest number of people, of all ages and abilities, throughout all seasons.”
The Tubbs Hill Foundation, an influential advisory group that keeps a watchful eye over the City’s natural masterpiece, issued a statement last month(pdf) regarding the McEuen Park plans re-emphasizing their desire to preserve Tubbs Hill in its natural state. Specifically, the Foundation opposed paving of Tubbs Hill trails, and it opposed “constructed elements” on Tubbs Hill, specifically itemizing the trailheads, an observation platform, water features, and the sledding hill. The Foundation says such elements are inconsistent with the long-standing management plan which states, “Tubbs Hill, a city park, shall be managed to provide for people’s use and enjoyment while maintaining the natural setting that provides this outdoor experience.”
In sum, we agree. In fact, for a variety of good reasons, the scope of the McEuen proposal should stop at the base of Tubbs Hill.
1. Visual integrity — A major concern is that the proposal sacrifices the visual integrity of the beautiful green backdrop that Tubbs Hill gives to McEuen Park. The proposed improvements would be visible from McEuen and the rest of the City of Coeur d’Alene, and would scar the otherwise natural forested hillside. The natural character of the McEuen-facing hillside should remain undisturbed to the extent possible.
2. Construction impacts and permanent disturbance — The construction impacts and disturbance created by opening the forest canopy for the proposed features are likely to invite more difficulty with invasive species. Moreover, the necessity for grading and heavier equipment for construction will likely have impacts on the stormwater, erosion and will likely boost nutrient inputs to the Lake. Such hillside development would be legally and environmentally problematic for a private developer on private property. Such development should not be excused and allowed to occur on City lands.
3. Sledding Hill — We are concerned that the clearance of trees for construction of a sledding hill in the winter months would leave a permanent scar on the hillside in non-winter months. There are better and more organic locations for sledding than Tubbs Hill.
4. Faux features — The Team McEuen proposal makes the unfortunate choice to suggest manmade waterfalls and gardens to greet Tubbs Hill visitors at the trailheads. Indeed, such a design decision misses the fundamental reasoning behind the fierce protection of Tubbs Hill as a natural area. Manmade aesthetic enhancement is simply unnecessary on Tubbs Hill.
5. Accessibility –We appreciate the desire to make the Tubbs Hill experience accessible to people of all abilities, but such accessibility should probably be part of an overall strategy for Tubbs Hill, not McEuen Park. The ADA requires very specific accessibility design and performance standards for new and substantially improved trails, specifying such things as the trail’s width, slope, surface, headroom, passing room, and obstructions. Such standards will be expensive and difficult to implement on Tubbs Hill without significant construction activity and harm to the visual experience. There is an exemption to the accessibility guidelines only if compliance would “cause substantial harm to cultural, historic, religious, or significant natural features or characteristics.” Arguably such an exception exists in this instance. However, we suggest that Tubbs Hill accessibility is a problem separate and apart from McEuen Park, and should be considered in a different planning process.