Councilman Hunter Pepper this week proposed that the city spend $90,000 to pave over the crushed rock surface of the Wilson Morgan Park walking trail.
Pepper said he had a number of residents, including some who are wheelchair-bound, approach him about paving the 1½–mile trail. He said one wheelchair-bound person told him the crushed rock is difficult and strenuous to use.
“This park should be enjoyable and accessible to anyone and everyone who chooses to use it, especially those with disabilities that require a wheelchair or mobility scooter of some kind,” Pepper said.
Pepper said the gravel walking trail is also difficult for people with baby strollers.
The District 4 councilman submitted the proposal on paving the trail for consideration at Monday’s meeting, but fellow council members said they needed more time to review it so they tabled the resolution.
Councilman Carlton McMasters said he’s not totally against paving the trail but he thinks the city has other projects that should be priorities.
“We’ve got police who say they need a raise and other priorities over spending $90,000 to pave the Wilson Morgan walking trail,” McMasters said.
Pepper said he felt McMasters was insinuating that he wasn’t aware that the city’s police officers need pay increases.
Pepper called McMasters’ statement “a sad comment.”
“I have been very adamant about increasing our officers' pay, but that takes time and I am confident that our Finance Department is working on it,” Pepper said.
Council President Jacob Ladner said he put the paving proposal on Monday’s agenda at Pepper’s request. Ladner said he runs the trail regularly and would have voted for the paving project if it had not been tabled.
“Hunter asked for it and some people want it paved,” Ladner said. “It will look nicer but I am concerned about the potential maintenance costs.”
Local runner Dan Durbin said he’s “very grateful” for the city’s walking trails at Point Mallard, Julian Harris Elementary School, Delano Park and Wilson Morgan that have crushed rock.
“These trails are easier on the joints and they give me places to run that are off the road and safer,” Durbin said.
However, Durbin said he understands a paved trail might be easier for people with strollers. He added that, if the city plans to pave the Wilson Morgan trail, he would prefer asphalt over cement.
Mayor Tab Bowling lives near Julian Harris and said walking trails like these are popular.
“Parks like this are used by residents of all type and different life stages,” Bowling said.
Bowling said one concern is a black asphalt trail would be difficult on pets in the heat.
Pepper said his cost estimate for the asphalt trail came from City Engineer Carl Prewitt. He did not, however, consult Parks and Recreation Director Jason Lake, who runs the Southwest Decatur Park, before making the proposal.
Don Gowen, a member of the Parks and Recreation board, is a staunch advocate of Wilson Morgan. He said that, with input from then-Parks and Recreation Director Jeff Dunlap and Lake, the Parks and Recreation Board approved a capital plan in 2018 that did not include paving the trail but did include the following projects:
• Update of the press box, $150,000.
• Replace playground, $500,000.
• Replace the batting cages with a splash pad, $500,000.
• Replace the bathroom facilities, $400,000.
• Repair and resurface the tennis courts, $175,000.
• Install a 10-foot fence surrounding the soccer field, $50,000.
The Parks and Recreation Board also passed a resolution in 2018 urging the City Council to dredge Wilson Morgan Lake. Silt and sediment are slowly building up in the lake, reducing the water depth and allowing the aquatic plants to grow and use the oxygen needed for fish and other aquatic wildlife to live.
However, Blake McAnally, of Pugh Wright McAnally Engineering Services, estimated in 2018 that dredging the lake so it can be used for recreational purposes would cost $2.37 million.
The City Council at the time elected not to approve the dredging because McAnally said the lake was created for flood control and is working as intended.
"People have run from (dredging) since they said it would cost $2.3 million," Gowen said.
Lake, who said he would like to show Pepper the capital plan, pointed out that the City Council recently approved $300,000 to repair the city’s tennis courts, including those at Wilson Morgan.