Communication important in Klaus Park tree plan

Sunday, January 8, 2017

When government boards and commissions see that few, if any, members of the public attend meetings or become engaged, we imagine it can become easy to forget how much people care about operations.

Add to that notion the noise that comes from anonymous online naysayers and critics, and it can lead to government and civic leaders who would rather insulate themselves, take care of matters internally and move projects along without seeking public input. But time and again the citizenry reminds its representatives that the people do care passionately about certain things. And those incidents remind us why transparency and public input are so important.

The latest example of this came from an active group that has been involved with the development and upkeep of a biking and running trail in Klaus Park.

Klaus Park, owned and maintained by the Cape Girardeau County Government, is one of the area's least-known parks. Aside from a shelter, a road and a picnic table or two, the park is simply a quiet and picturesque wooded area with tall trees. The park makes for a challenging running and bicycle course, and also a scenic one. There are few such natural trails available for cyclists and runners in the immediate area.

So when some of these runners and cyclists noticed that dozens of trees had been marked with orange spray paint for harvesting, a bit of panic ensued.

How many trees were going to be cut down?

Would this interfere with the trail?

Would it dramatically change the look and feel of the park?

All of these were questions with no immediate answers. The decision had not been discussed publicly, or listed on a county commission agenda.

In the end, several concerned citizens were able to meet and find out more from the county government.

The trees were marked for cutting, but no final decision has been made on the number to be harvested. The county had been working with the Missouri Conservation Department for best foresting practices.

The revenue obtained by the harvesting of the trees will be put back into the park system, including a new veterans monument at Cape County Park North.

According to a story by Mark Bliss for the Southeast Missourian, park superintendent Bryan Sander and Presiding Commissioner Clint Tracy apologized for not informing Klaus Park users about the possible timber harvest before the trees were marked for removal.

Tracy said he understood many Klaus Park users "are alarmed" by the tree-cutting proposal.

There are reasonable lessons to be gleaned from this situation, which is somewhat concerning but not overly alarming.

The county can do a better job of informing its citizenry of what is going on, particularly as it relates to its parks, and should work toward that goal.

But it also makes sense, and is prudent, that the county work with MDC on forest management at Klaus. It's reasonable to take out certain Ash trees, for example, that can cause the spread of certain harmful insects. It makes sense that aging trees should be taken down to allow for the growth of younger trees. However, trees also have emotional and aesthetic significance in parks, so removal should be prudent and not profit-oriented. Here's hoping that the park will retain its natural landscape without too much interference with the trails that several individuals have worked hard to maintain.

We're pleased that the Klaus Park users were able to bring their concerns to the county, and the county seems to be listening, now that its leaders were reminded of just how passionate people can be about government operations.

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