Opinion: Of a river and a rail trail

By DAVID M. CARROLL

Published: 03-28-2023 6:00 AM

Artist, naturalist, and writer David M. Carroll lives in Warner.

To quote Henry David Thoreau, “I would speak a word for Nature.” And I would speak it from deepest opposition to the severely degrading impacts that would be brought to bear on the Warner River’s exemplary riverine, and riparian corridor, along with its upland buffers, via the implementation of the proposed rail trail.

One might think that esthetics alone would be cause to deny construction of this “vision,” a recreational dream in some views that would become nature’s nightmare. But not even natural-landscape ethics or critical ecological and ecosystem considerations appear enough to derail implementation.

The town of Warner, ostensibly one that places its value on its natural features (although I have witnessed continual decline over my fifty years in residence), is fortunate to have such an extraordinarily rich extent of three-part interdependent habitat critical to a notable biological diversity, plant and animal, resident and migratory.

River corridors (technically the Warner River is a fourth-order stream, already compromised by its lying between an interstate and state highway) are vital travel routes and nesting grounds for a great array of migratory songbirds (in great decline) and other avian species.

One reads and views, and many lament, reports detailing the accelerating habitat loss, declines in biological diversity, and even extinctions, almost daily. And yet such massive causes such as rail trails, so enormously popular, contributory to all of these realities go unchecked as they invade and alter natural landscape elements.

There is a great body of scientific literature attesting to the deleterious negative impacts inflicted by rail trails and all that comes with them. Of course, there are cherished notions and documents that say, or ask, what harm can come from a fourteen-foot wide stone-dust boulevard flanked by two-foot berms augmented by river-crossing bridges, bringing parades of people, dogs, bikes, and though not here (yet) even ATVs in too many cases run through miles of the heart of a natural space? And as the master plan intends to connect Concord to lake Sunapee, is this “trail” not a major through-traffic conduit?

One (of so many) factoids gleaned from my readings is that one person with one dog on a leash disperses wildlife from a surrounding area of some 600 meters in diameter.

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In this river’s case, a gift of the glaciers, over a millennium in the making, and every living thing within its embrace so deeply dependent upon it, becomes in a short span of time one more human playground, dog park.

It is a grievous injustice that so many conservation commissions, agencies, land trusts, et. al., perpetuate this tragic counterpoint to what any with a heart for nature would see through at a glance.

If this earth-consuming project is put in place it will set down an extraordinarily landscape-altering grid that will be there for long a time. It is a bell that cannot be unrung.

The decision-makers of today will inflict it not only upon the natural world, dictate its nature, but upon the people of future times.

Should a populace and its town officials ever come to a more just view of the natural world, they (and any wildlings) will yet have to live with this desecration.

A recent report testifies that a mere 20% of the world is in the hands of Indigenous peoples. And that that 20% (Pacha Mama et. al.) is the richest percentage of the planet in true natural-environment health.

In a conversation with a friend aligned with my dedicated opposition to the rail trail, he spoke of the “earth cost.” That should give us all great pause.

However remote it appears, while time may yet be there, I can only hope that the citizens of Warner can find the determination, ways and means, to deny this zealous, ill-conceived, unnecessary degradation.

As the many deeply problematic aspects of the rail trail remain under consideration, it is imperative that the thus far woefully underrepresented critical matter of the inevitable long-term destructive impacts to the natural environment of the river corridor be kept in the forefront of the dialog.

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