Laura and Michael Anderson are passionate about what they believe in.
Like anyone, when what they are passionate about is believed to be in danger, well they’re going to have something to say about it.
That seemed to be the case at the April 28 meeting of the Weatherford City Council.
In what appeared to be a pretty routine meeting, it turned heated during the citizen’s comments portion of the agenda.
The Andersons both approached the council with concerns they had with the way in which the City Parks Board approved a proposal to allow a mountain bike club to cut new trails through the nature sanctuary areas in Soldier Spring Park.
“We needed more than five minutes to consider major changes to a historic park, especially since this was the first time we had seen this proposal,” Michael Anderson, the current board chair and the only opposed vote told Council. “I have a lot of concerns and questions that were not asked or considered.”
Michael asked why the bicycle club couldn’t use the trails already in the park.
“Why do we feel we need more recreational options and less natural land?” asked Michael. “Why are we straying from the original purpose of Soldier Spring Park? Why are we allowing an outside club to take commercial tools into the park and cut trails? Who is liable for any accidents? And why haven’t we had time to study and do an assessment on the impact it will make on those that already use the park? And lastly, why are we giving consideration to a small group over the many that already use that park?”
Michael told the council that the park is used by a lot of walkers and families that will be displaced if there are “speeding mountain bikes.”
“Many of the walkers have already expressed concerns about this to me,” he said. “They walk Soldier Spring Park because it is safe for them and their children. This should have been a consideration before sending something on.”
Laura said, following the meeting, that nothing is in stone yet, that the bike trail is just a consideration at this time, but doesn’t think it has been thought out.
“This is a highly-used park for families and elderly walkers, for people who enjoy nature and quiet,” she said.
Taking it a step further, Laura said she has been in contact with the Texas Historical Commission because Soldier Spring had a historical marker placed there in 1976.
“The Park was created 25 years after the Civil War to commemorate the Confederate Veterans,” she added. “It was important to our ancestors for them to have a natural contemplative place to bring their families. I think we need that today as well.”
She said, legally, the city must have a consultation with the Commission to comply with section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act, because of the historical marker on the park.
“Often, people do not seem to remember the importance of historical markers, or why they are put in certain areas, there is a story behind each one,” Laura said. “Soldier Spring Park is full of stories; the park holds our history.”
Shannon Goodman, Director of Parks and Recreation for the city, said he contacted the Texas Historical Commission (THC) twice last week only to find information to the contrary.
He said in his first call to the THC, they informed him that the historic marker is a “subject marker” and that there are no development restrictions for the land as long as the subject mark is left in the location.
Laura said she didn’t think people realize the importance of keeping a beautiful, large, natural tract of park land intact for the future generations.
“I want my grandchildren and great grandchildren to have a piece of Parker County that stays natural,” she said. “A place they can go to see the beauty of Texas, where I can go and remember.”
Because of that, she started the Friends of the Beauty Way as a preservation group to save Soldier Spring Park from development.
Laura said as upset as she was with the city for what she sees as their “short-sightedness” in this situation, it has driven her to dedicate her life to preserve the park for future generations.
“My goal is that we leave this park as a natural contemplative place for our residents,” she added. “That someday, people will say how innovative Weatherford was to keep such a beautiful historic treasure in trust.”
She said, on a positive note, the park director is looking at the information she sent about the state regulations and is working toward getting the area surveyed for cultural resources through the state.
“Since the Confederate Civil War Troops camped there, we are sure there could be some major finds,” Laura said. “One of the archeologist I spoke with told me that when there is an elevated area, like the hill in the Park, along with a spring, there are almost always prehistoric finds.”
Goodman said the second call was to THC archeology/ projects review department.
“After discussing the park history and the future plans, I felt it is in the best interest for the community and future development of the park to submit current projects to the THC for review,” Goodman said. “That review period will take 30 days to complete; their review will tell us if the Texas Historical Commission would recommend any future assessments of the park or clear the park for all future developments.”
Because the issue was a non-agenda item, the council was not at liberty to discuss it. However, as a point of reference, the parks board did discussed the issue at its April 21 meeting.
According to the minutes of the meeting, Goodman asked for feedback from board members. Kathy Wylie said she thought that the presentation was “very interesting” and wanted to know how many acres were involved in the trail system and what would be the funding for the trail system.
Lawrence Coivin, with the Weatherford Mountain Bike Club, said the trail system would be in an area where there are no improvements needed in the park which would include up to 55 acres.
He said no funding or cost was necessary for the trail system since there was a great volunteer system to construct and maintain the trail which is established through the National Mountain Bike Association.
Thomas Moorman asked about safety on these remote trails.
Coivin said that the Weatherford police and fire departments would “definitely” be involved with signage and telecommunications through GIS for any emergency situations.
Michael Anderson expressed a desire to table this agenda item because of the many things to consider such as wildlife within the park structure and in maintaining the natural environment of the park. However, Moorman expressed the desire to continue with the discussion and planning together along with the Mountain Bike Association, the Veteran’s memorial group and the Butterfly Way-station group.
Wylie asked how wide the trail would be and Coivin said it would be from 12-18 inches wide and blend into the world around it. He also emphasized the numerous groups that will be able to utilize this trail system. Wylie said that it would be a “great amenity to this park.”
Anderson maintained his concern, saying that the bikers would chase off the wildlife and disturb the natural environment within the park. He expressed that further discussion is warranted. Moorman said that more people would make the park safer.
Goodman mentioned that security is “top priority” and that “maintenance is the key to success in any park system.”
Moorman made the motion to approve the concept. It was seconded by Wylie and the Board voted 3-1 to recommend to city council to approve a viable plan to construct a multi-trail system within Soldier Spring Park as stated.
Lance Winter, 817-594-9902, Ext. 102