With a rev of heavy machinery, Dunwoody ended any doubt that it plans to proceed with plans to build a multi-use, concrete trail through a tree-shrouded area of its biggest park.
After workers began clearing trees Tuesday morning at Brook Run Park, neighbors and park-goers lamented the eventual loss of some 253 trees.
“We were all anticipating this was going to happen,” said Beverly Armento, who walked from her nearby home to look at the equipment assembling. “It’s unconscionable.”
Armento and about two dozen nearby residents filed suit to stop the trail, arguing it will increase the likelihood of flooding. The group succeeded in obtaining a restraining order in late December, but lost an effort to keep it in place. The case has been appealed to the Georgia Supreme Court.
“The city is trying to beat us instead of waiting for the legal system to play out,” Armento said.
The city began studying the new trail two years ago and were awarded a $100,000 state grant to kick-start the project. They approved a plan in 2011 calling for an 8-foot-wide wood-and-rock path with minimal disturbance to existing trees. Since then, the path has broadened in width by 4 feet, shrunk in length from 1.3 miles to three-quarters of a mile and tripled in cost to $425,000 from the original $130,000.
The issue has given rise to a citizens’ group made up of nearby homeowners, naturalists and tea party members who oppose the larger trail.
Opponents at the site Wednesday said they believe the city is violating its plan and have notified the Environmental Protection Division of their grievances, which include violating stream buffer zones and failing to fence off nearby trees marked to be preserved before the land was disturbed.
City Manager Warren Hutmacher said the city resurveyed the trail recently and marked some 80 additional trees to save from the original plan. He said it would be impossible to operate heavy equipment in the area now with fences around all the saved trees. Fences will go up as grading begins, he said.
The buffer encroachments are only at bridge crossings, Hutmacher said, and the EPD does not require a variance for those.
City leaders, including Mayor Mike Davis, say that after collecting public input at more than a dozen meetings, the new trail is what most residents want. It will provide opportunities for walking, running and cycling on a path solely designated for those uses, the mayor said.
The city also points out that no hardwoods over 25 inches in diameter are being removed and more than half the trail follows the same path as an existing asphalt trail.
Local naturalist Bobbi Sedam was among a handful of people who kept vigil over the tree removal, arriving early Tuesday and leaving late in the afternoon.
“We watched wonderful hardwood trees just get picked up by the roots and knocked down on the ground,” she said. “This could be a tragedy for Dunwoody.”