SBU Nature Trail: Creating a path

By Jasmine Blennau and Kelly Zegers

Hannah Mellor from Jasmine Blennau on Vimeo.

The Idea:

Hannah Mellor, a senior Environmental Policy, Planning and Design student, is trying to get her proposal for the nature trail picked up by administration. It hasn’t been easy.

The Stony Brook Nature Trail, originally called “The Mellor Trail,” is a proposal for a five mile trail revitalization project, not to be confused with a shortcut to get around campus.

“It was a shame that there was so much wooded area but it wasn’t being utilized,” Mellor said.

Her proposal to administration is to connect two and a half miles of existing trails by clearing two and a half miles of new trail. The nature trail would be a feature of the Stony Brook campus that could be used by anyone for walking, running and biking.

Currently the SBU Nature Trail Facebook page has 680 likes and Mellor has received 1,500 signatures on the petition supporting the trail.

The first mile of the trail is indicated by orange markers tied to trees. (Photo by Kelly Zegers
The first mile of the trail is indicated by orange markers tied to trees. (Photo by Kelly Zegers)

“I can get as many signatures as possible but if those signatures don’t mean anything then the trail truly will not happen,” she said. “If people start blindly signing – it means nothing. To sign it you have to be aware of what you’re signing and become an active member of the trail.”

Mellor has support from professors, too.

“I think it’s wonderful if people are outside and engaging with nature and connecting with it so the more we can do that the better,” Heidi Hutner, associate professor of English and Sustainability, said.

“I take my students to Avalon park. If we had more experiences like that here, that would be great. We do have the Ashley Schiff Preserve, that’s great, so I’m in full support of it and I think it’s a wonderful that she’s working on the design.”

The trail has gained interest of the community outside of the university. Mellor said that C.L.I.M.B., Concerned Long Island Mountain Bikers, are willing to loan materials and machinery toward the development and maintenance of the trail. The Green Belt and The Green Way, two local environmental groups and the Stony Brook Cross Country Team have also expressed support, she said.

“Exercise will probably be the main point of promoting things, but also, I don’t know which point will become more important to us, exercise or environmental awareness,” said Dylan McDougall, a junior geology major. “Exercise is a little more directly related to walking in the woods, but environmental awareness is kind of the motivation for our project.”

Limitations:

Despite the apparent growing support for the trail, the project has limits.

Donovan Finn, a visiting assistant professor in sustainability studies, gave Mellor informal advice on what to do, who to talk to and how to build support when she would stop by his office after classes.

Finn, who said he thinks the project is a great idea, said he had to remind Mellor of challenges she could face.

“For one thing, getting her to realize that the real world is not always what it looks like on a map and making sure that she got out and figured out where she wanted this thing to be and what the limitations would be,” Finn said.

“Realities might be different than she thinks,” he continued, explaining that although a route might look perfect on a map, it could be completely different on the ground.

Matthew Whelan,Vice President for Strategic Initiatives, represents that reality. He spoke to Mellor about the trail but was not shown the proposal.

“Anything that is constructed or created on campus has to go through a process of vetting and various stages of approval,” Whelan said. With specific regard to the hiking trail, we have to be concerned first with student safety, we have to be concerned with environmental impacts, we have to be concerned with [Americans with Disabilities Act] accessibility.”

There is also the question of whether the trail in its entirety falls on university land, he said.

Watch out for thorns along the trail, which get caught on clothing. (Photo by Kelly Zegers)
Watch out for thorns along the trail, which get caught on clothing. (Photo by Kelly Zegers)

“The idea of trying to secure a trail on areas that are very remote is a major concern for us in addition to the cost that, even if it was approved, would not only have to be borne by someone to construct a trail, but the ongoing maintenance and security of that trail would need  to be considered in perpetuity,” Whelan said, asking who is the steward of the trail and what type of liabilities occur is people from off campus use the trail.

“It is a trail in the woods,” Mellor said. “No one would say that’s entirely safe. It’s a shame because they are really nice things that people enjoy during the day and now people have to actively avoid them in the night.”

She said that she does need to further address the safety issue. Maps in the proposal address the blue light system, which would be accessible on most parts of the trail. Blue light phones provide an immediate direct connection to University Police at any time of the day.

Excluding the part of the trail that runs through the Research and Development park, Mellor found that the rest of the trail falls within 200 meters of a blue light call box. She figured it would take approximately a 30 to 40 second sprint to reach a call box.

Mellor did not want to rely on the Blue Light System for safety, so she had a member of her team develop a mobile app.

Assistant Chief of Police Eric Olsen said there is no plan to phase out the blue light system.

The app, created by McDougall, shows which parts of the trail are clear and which parts need clearing. Green represents the existing trail, yellow of a pruned path that requires some clearing and red which represents sections with trees that require removal, according to the proposal. The app asks for access to the user’s location and, once approved, shows where the user in in relation to the trail with a blue dot.

“I think it will be really useful once people understand that they use this app to find where to go because lots of times I have to explain to people where to find trails,” McDougall said.

Beyond mapping out the steps of the trail, Mellor calculated the costs of completing the trail. This includes cost consideration of labor and equipment for tree removal on 2.6 miles of the planned track.

In addition to that, she priced signs, crosswalks and speedbumps for the three sections of the trail that cross roads.

In the proposal, Mellor eScreen Shot 2015-05-05 at 10.56.45 PMstimates the total cost of construction to be $58,980.

Construction machines……………………….$43,560
(including labor and fuel)
Signs, cross walks and speed bumps…..$10,320
Outdoor fitness equipment…………………..$5,100
Total cost of construction…………………….$58,980

“In the proposal it’s a huge amount of money that’s seen to go into this trail,” Mellor said. “It’s better to high ball it than low ball it.”

In the conclusion of the proposal, Mellor argues that in comparison to the investment of $37.5 million for the Campus Recreation Center design and construction, “Investing $50,000 into an off-road trail has just as many, arguably more, benefits as the Rec. Center.”

Such benefits include physical health like nature walks and runs, as well as mental health like stress relief and meditation.

Moving forward:

Mellor is graduating this spring, but the push for the trail is not over. She has established a key group of students who will turn these efforts into a club. McDougall will become the SBU Nature Trail’s leader next year.

McDougall said he plans for the club to have a publicity branch to make people aware of the trails around campus, along with students who will deal with trying to gain administrative approval; for the proposed trail.

“Maybe it won’t happen while she’s here at Stony Brook University,” said Mellor’s professor and mentor Dr. Harold Quigley. “Even if there is never a nature trail, Hannah learned a lot about organizing. Something small takes a lot of work.”

Quigley, who has had more than 30 years experience in environmental work, said that if the president of the university acknowledged her petition and number of signatures it would be a symbolic gesture.

“When planning you need community participation,” Quigley said. “The process is between individual citizens. To make things happen you need resources, cooperation among the stakeholders and to know the rules.”

“It’s about creating the right relationships and having good will.”

See our experience on the trail through this interactive Stony Brook Nature Trail Map.

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