The Minto Island Pedestrian Bridge and Trail – for which preliminary tree removal begins this week – has been part of the Salem’s plans since 1975 and an expression of community vision for many years more.
When completed, the bridge, and the Union Street Bridge, will connect more than 1,000 acres of the city’s major three parks; Minto-Brown Island Park, Riverfront Park and Wallace Marine Park in West Salem with 21-miles of trails.
As a public good widely considered beneficial to both community and the environment, it is an indication of the complexity of human impact, that some environmentalists object to because of the access the bridge will give thousands of people and pets to the wild areas of Minto-Brown.
Salem Stephanie Hazen, a wild bird photographer and wildlife advocate, cites the peninsula the footbridge would disturb. It floods every few winters and is “a resting/wintering area to hundreds of ducks. Putting a footpath around that area would only further encroach on wintering water fowl.”
Great blue herons occupy a rookery (nesting area,) and can be seen on the Salem Audubon Society’s spit of land adjacent to Minto-Brown this week.
The land will now be disastrously accessible, Hazen says. “It used to be replete with herons raising brood after brood. Herons will tolerate humans at a distance. They will not tolerate humans right under their rookery.”
Aileen Kaye, member of Friends of Marion County, and deeply involved in local land use issues, agrees, saying, “We humans seem to not be able to leave habitat alone. We intrude at every turn.”
Hazel Patton is President of the Board of Directors of the grassroots group, Friends of Two Bridges, which has worked tirelessly to facilitate the Minto Bridge. Patton believes it brings real benefit to the environment.
“It provides an opportunity to get out and walk on paths that are well-defined,” she says. “Benches will be provided for people to rest. Signage will be up so people can learn more about the environment of the island – so it will also be educational.”
Salem ‘smart growth’ proponent Elaine Sanchez feels pets disruption will be minimal. She points out that Minto-Brown already has a leash law and the patrolling volunteers care very much that dogs are kept leashed.
“People will always break the law,” Sanchez says, “but you can’t say that’s reason to stop such enormous benefits to the entire community.”
Sanchez’s husband Alex points to the reduction of carbon emissions, saying, “the bridge will give people access to a beautiful trail system without having to drive to it.”
Both sides see the reality of balancing benefits and harms for any project. The challenges are not new to David Fox, owner of Fox Blueprinting Co in downtown Salem and member of the Salem Planning Commission.
“As an individual who is a member of several environmental and animal rights groups,” Fox says, “I appreciate the concern over wildlife intrusion… but I would also counter that concern by acknowledging the benefit to the environment.”
Fox believes the bridge is an “opportunity to educate more park visitors about the abounding wildlife and flora in our back yard.”