Work for trail begins with tree removal

J. Jacob Edel
Mercer Island Reporter

Work on a new half-mile gravel trail on the South end of the Island has begun with the removal of several trees and blackberry bushes along Island Crest Way from S.E. 71st Street to 78th.

The five-foot-wide, 2,236-foot trail will be on the west side of the roadway and connect several homes with other existing trails or pathways in the area. It will also connect with the new bike and pedestrian paths along S.E. 71st Street.

Construction of the trail is expected to be completed in March with the tree removal done by the end of this month. The trail alignment is expected to be marked on site by the end of January as well.

According to Anne Tonella-Howe, the assistant city engineer, the trees currently marked with the yellow caution tape will be preserved. Most trees planned for removal are already down, she said, and only a few marked with an orange “X” will be cut.

“When we began to ask the neighborhood about what type of path they wanted, the community expressed a concern about the number of trees needed to be cut down with an alternative that separated the path from the street,” Tonella-Howe said. “As a result, we marked those with yellow tape that would remain so folks could have a visual of what was to be kept and those anticipated to be removed.”

The scene of the construction currently has several scraps of cut blackberry bushes and tree rounds on the ground. The city originally planned to use goats to remove the blackberries, but that plan fell through when city transportation engineer Nancy Fairchild took a leave of absence.

The city plans to use the tree chips at Wildwood and Luther Burbank parks. Cut rounds at the sight are also available for citizens to pick up.

According to an update of the project on the city’s Web site, the city arborist finalized the tree assessment last month and determined that the black cottonwoods at the north end of the trail and a few additional damaged trees further south on the trail should be removed, in addition to those marked in November. The additional trees to be removed have been marked with spray paint, which are the three damaged trees exposed and identified during the first clearing.

“Since there will be pedestrians, bicyclists, kids and strollers in between those trees, we decided to make the experience as safe as it could be,” Tonella-Howe said. “And that predicated taking out those cottonwoods. The diseased firs and cottonwoods have been cut down. We heard concerns about removing so many trees, so we have re-evaluated what was needed.”

In September, 36 residents attended an open house at Lakeridge Elementary School to assist in the planning of the trail. Councilmember Dan Grausz, Assistant City Manager and Parks director Pete Mayer, Assistant City Engineer Anne Tonella-Howe and Transportation Planner Nancy Fairchild also attended.

A neighborhood survey, tallied by the city, asked residents for preferred trail options. There were four possibilities. A total of 51 surveys were submitted to the city by Sept. 28 and a few residents selected more than one trail alternative, identifying a first and second choice.

An overwhelming majority of those surveyed favored the winning option — to build the five-foot-wide gravel trail separated from the roadway with minimal tree loss. A total of 44 selected this choice.

The first alternative, a concrete path adjacent to the existing roadway, received only three votes. The second, a foot-wide asphalt path separate from the roadway, received seven votes. Finally, option three, a five-foot-wide concrete path and gravel shoulder with a minimal buffer and tree loss received three votes. Two residents voted for not building the trail at all.

All design alternatives included the removal of critical hazard trees and short-lived trees, such as alders and cottonwoods, over other species.

The cost of the trail is planned to be between $100,000 and $130,000.

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