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Proposed bike path in Idaho Falls neighborhood causing concerns for homeowners

Idaho Falls

IDAHO FALLS – A maintenance road and a row of trees next to a canal are the pride and joy of an Idaho Falls community and they’re concerned a proposed development could destroy it.

A paved bike trail is planned on a mile-long section of the canal near Grove Lane off Sunnyside Road. The property is owned by the Idaho Canal Company and sits adjacent to a 6-acre lot formerly occupied by the old Monarch Daycare, which was recently demolished to make room for a new housing development in the next three years.

RELATED | Housing development in the works off Sunnyside Road in Idaho Falls

The trail is slated to be built between the housing development and a row of trees on the east side of the canal bank. Several improvements have been discussed in conjunction with the project, including removing the row of trees.

A maintenance road on the opposite side of the canal is a popular spot where many people like to walk or ride their bike while swimming in the canal. Rick Hulse, a homeowner in the neighborhood for more than 20 years, is concerned about what could happen if the trees are removed.

“We have people coming and bringing their dogs and bicycles … because it’s so serene and quiet. It takes you away from the busyness of the city and traffic. Teenagers like to play in the canal every summer,” Hulse says. “Taking out the trees and putting in a paved bicycle path is just going to take all that away.”

Hulse isn’t the only one who feels that way. Mike Griffin, another homeowner in that area, says the trees are a natural wildlife habitat for wood ducks and other animals. Many people enjoy seeing the wildlife as they walk along the canal bank.

Griffin says removing the trees would destroy the habitat and the bank’s appeal. Putting in a paved path on the other side of the canal doesn’t make any sense, he says.

“You’re building a bridge to nowhere,” Griffin says. “There’s not enough people to justify the use of that bike path through this neighborhood because people that already use the canal bank love to use this side (with the maintenance road). Just because it’s paved doesn’t mean it’s going to attract more people.”

Griffin says removing the trees would also eliminate a natural barrier between the canal and the housing development.

“We want to preserve the trees and not have a bike path there,” says Griffin.

canal bank 2
The row of trees along the canal bank | Rett Nelson, EastIdahoNews.com

Both Griffin and Hulse say they’ve tried to voice their concerns at city council meetings in the past, but officials wouldn’t allow it.

City spokesman Eric Grossarth provides some clarification, explaining that public input on the project was gathered in 2013 when the Idaho Canal Trail Project was in the planning stages. The project aims to connect the communities of Idaho Falls, Ammon, Iona and Ucon with a network of bike and pedestrian trails. Multiple studies were conducted and members of the community were given a chance to weigh-in.

Three community meetings were held, according to the city’s website, with at least 300 people in attendance at each one. More than 1,100 responses were collected in a survey and about 100 people responded online.

A year-long public planning process culminated with the approval of a comprehensive plan to connect the trails along the greenbelt to other existing trails that run parallel to the canal.

The city celebrated the completion of a three-mile stretch of paved trail last August that extends from Community Park and north to Garfield.

RELATED | Idaho Falls welcomes bikers and pedestrians to use new Canal Trail

Now that the plan has been approved and portions of the project are already complete, Grossarth says the time for public comment has passed. As the property owner, the canal company can develop the land however they would like, he says, and the city does not have any authority to stop them.

“But that doesn’t mean we don’t care or that we aren’t willing to listen to people’s concerns,” Grossarth says.

The plan does not provide specifics on a timeline for the project, but Grossarth says it’s not likely to happen anytime soon. The city does not currently have any funds allocated for the trail’s completion, he says.

But homeowners in the area are confused about the messaging because the canal company removed several trees on the north end of the canal bank several months ago. Richard Lockyear, Manager of the Idaho Irrigation District, says the trees were removed because “they’re old and are falling over.” A plan is in the works to remove all of them along the canal, but he doesn’t anticipate that happening until the water season is over.

Hulse says in the 20 years he’s lived there, the canal company has left the trees untouched and if it weren’t for the city’s bike project, there wouldn’t be any interest in removing them.

“I’m confused because the city evidently has a plan and they say they’re not going to engage that plan until way into the future, but at the same time you see (the canal company) cutting down trees and putting up signs that say ‘no access,'” says Hulse. “They could just show up and start cutting down trees and the residents here would have no input.”

Hulse and Griffin do not feel like there was adequate public input and they’d like to be able to discuss the plan further with city planners and come up with alternatives.

“(We’d like to) look at ways of preserving as much as possible rather than just ending up with a bare canal bank that’s just going to destroy the character of what we have there,” Hulse says.

Those who would like to provide input can call Grossarth at (208) 612-8562 or email egrossarth@idahofalls.gov.

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