Friday, March 30, 2001
A newcomer ponders the footpath issue
I have lived in Carlisle for six months and am puzzling over an issue that has apparently caused rifts between residents off and on for at least 25 years. In a word: footpaths. Granted, I'm a newcomer, but if you can forgive me for that, I'm hoping it might be interesting to consider a newcomer's perspective on the subject. (At least I can provide some enlightenment for other new residents who don't understand the issue, as I didn't before writing this piece.) Learning about this subject has been fascinating, leading ultimately to a greater understanding of the fierce devotion that all residents both those opposed and in favor of footpathsfeel for the treasure that is Carlisle. Even more than before, I feel proud and privileged to live here.
My story began last summer when my husband and I were househunting and fell in love with Carlisle, for all the obvious reasons. As I envisioned our potential future here, I imagined taking long walks on Carlisle's beautiful country roads, where life could be enjoyed at a slower pace than our previous home in a bustling Chicago suburb.
Not long after moving in, we discovered what all Carlisle residents know: driving here is a challenge. In the past six months, I've had several heart-stopping moments when I've turned a corner to see an unexpected jogger, dog-walker or child on a scooter. They are in the road, in the path of my car, because there's nowhere else for them to go. They have to trust that I'm paying attention and driving slow enough to avoid hitting them. Meanwhile, I have to trust that a driver from the opposite direction will be equally as alert when I swerve into his lane. I can only assume that Carlisle residents get used to this after a while. I'm still not there.
Needless to say, the necessity of this leap-of-faith, take-your-life-into-your-own-hands pedestrian mindset has put a damper on my idyllic vision of strolling along Carlisle's country roads. I find it ironic and sad that it would be far easier and in many ways, safer to take a walk in downtown Boston or a crowded suburb than in the area just beyond my driveway in this beautiful town.
When I heard that footpaths were being considered for Carlisle roads, I perked up my ears, and felt some relief. The feeling was short-lived, however, when I discovered that there are residents who are vehemently opposed to the concept of footpaths in Carlisle and have prevented their creation for over a quarter-century. Frankly, I was baffled. How could anyone oppose the safety of children, adults and pets who wish or need to walk here? Thus, my education began.
The first thing I learned was that you never, ever, under any circumstances, use the term "sidewalk" when discussing this subject. What at first seems like an argument over semantics, is actually quite revealing. Sidewalks (if you'll pardon the expression) say "city", and"concrete" or "asphalt." These things do not say "Carlisle." This is something everyone seems to agree upon. If there are to be walkways, they need to fit the rural character of the town. Ideally, they would be woodland paths, made of natural materials, such as crushed stone. Instead of marching in monotony along the side of the road, they should be allowed to meander around trees and rocks.
There are other concerns however, many of them quite understandable. People are wondering what this will cost and if it might take money from other priorities, like land conservation. Many wonder about the scope of the project. Will the footpaths eventually be along every street, passing through everyone's property? Who will maintain them?
I know I'm just scratching the surface of this issue, and am just beginning to get a handle on it -- but I am eager to learn more, and to have the conversations continue. I find comfort in knowing that as many -- or more -- long-term residents are in favor of footpaths as upstart newcomers. I am resigned to the fact that this is to be a slow process, but I know it needs to be, allowing for debate, compromise, and the quelling of concerns. In the meantime, I will watch with interest progress made toward the initial plan: creating footpaths in the center of town for the safety of our school children.
During my research for this piece, I have learned that no matter where they stand on the subject of footpaths, the residents of Carlisle are passionate about protecting and maintaining a rural character that is rapidly disappearing elsewhere. I consider it a privilege to join in caring for this sacred trust. Certainly we can love and protect Carlisle, while loving and protecting its people as well.
© 2001 The Carlisle Mosquito