Evanston City Council postpones discussion of Ladd Arboretum path rehab


Ben Schaefer/The Daily Northwestern

City officials pose for a selfie promoting national Kick Butts Day. The Evanston Department of Health and Human Services will use the photo to promote tobacco-free lifestyles for local youth.

Ben Schaefer, Assistant City Editor

Evanston aldermen voted unanimously Monday to delay action on the plan to rehabilitate the path that runs through Edward R. Ladd Arboretum until after a public meeting has been held to discuss the specifics of the reconstruction proposal.

Under the current proposal, the project would rebuild the multi-use trail, currently made of gravel, with a paved pathway. Different options of varying cost and sustainability levels were discussed for paving materials.

Several Evanston residents spoke at the meeting about concerns over what the project would mean for the natural state of the arboretum.

“We need to think about what it means to have an arboretum,” Charles Smith, chair of the Ladd Arboretum committee, said. “It’s a place for peaceful quiet and contemplation. It’s a place to enjoy trees, animals and wildlife. It’s not a transportation route.”

Doug Macdonald, a former curator of the Chicago Botanic Garden, spoke about the potential harm the project would have on the trees lining the path. The plan would require two feet of cleared ground on either side of the path.

“My primary concern is for the trees, which are, after all, the essence of an arboretum,” he said. “If you’re working on an eight-foot-wide path with two feet on either side then you’re risking a high possibility of cutting the roots, especially since the arboretum is already so narrow.”

Residents expressed frustration over lack of public outreach for input on the project.

The plan was proposed a year ago by the Public Works department. The department has met with the Ladd Arboretum committee, held one public meeting and two meetings with the council, Public Works director Suzette Robinson said.

Although the city would need to move on the plan before Feb. 23 in order to complete construction this year, city manager Wally Bobkiewicz said, aldermen insisted on reaching out to the community before making any decisions.

“There’s a group of people who don’t think they’ve been heard and we should hear from them,” Ald. Judy Fiske (1st) said.

The city received a $580,000 grant to fund the project through the Illinois Transportation Enhancement Program, a federally funded initiative to encourage transportation-related enhancement projects.

The path in its current state provides poor drainage as well as poor connections at street intersections. The gravel makeup of the path also makes clearing snow difficult in the winter and access to the arboretum difficult for bikers and especially for visitors from Over the Rainbow, a nonprofit that provides housing for adults with physical disabilities, which is situated across the street at 2040 Brown Ave.

Aldermen and residents alike spoke in favor of increasing accessibility to the park while maintaining the park’s tranquility.

“My goal is for it to be a shared use and multi-use path that can be used 12 months out of the year,” Ald. Jane Grover (7th) said. “But I want it to remain a place for wildlife and bird watching.”

Ald. Don Wilson (4th) said he did not want the path to become a “thoroughfare.”

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