Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Country roads call to the old warriors

Gibraltar Bluff Road now
The first time I ever noticed Door County, I was living far from here and heard about people unhappy with plans to remove grand old trees from the edges of state highways in Northern Door. That discussion has reached the town roads now, 25 years later.

Wally and Rita Brandt loaned me a framed photograph they have of a path through a woods. It’s a dirt road, barely more than a one-lane driveway with a little grass growing between the ruts left by tires.

It’s a beautiful photo, but my breath was really taken away when Rita said, “That’s Isle View Road before they paved it.”
Isle View Road then

I suddenly understood what led Norb Blei to write an ode to Isle View, “The Death of a Country Road,” which begins, “It was the kind of road one came upon unexpectedly, and because there was a quietness to it, a mystery, you followed it wherever it might lead.”

Isle View Road, of course, recently got a repaving all these years later, after literally years of discussion and arguments about whether to make the asphalt ribbon 18 feet or 20 feet wide, and how big the shoulders should be, and the “clear zone” on either side of the roadway.

I drove Isle View again last month after the gravel was down, but not the pavement, and found myself thinking that the 18-or-20 debate seemed like splitting hairs.

That same day I introduced myself to Garrett Bay Road, which the town of Liberty Grove is tackling next. It’s a modest, pleasant road, through open fields, up and down hills, through forested land, and of course along Garrett Bay. Once, I understand, it was the main road between Ellison Bay and Gills Rock. It’s still peaceful and quiet.

The Liberty Grove Town Board seems to have learned from the acrimony of the Isle View Road debate and is listening carefully to residents’ concerns. As a casual observer and lover of old stuff, I frankly didn’t see any real need to repave Garrett Bay Road, let alone widen any of it, but I was there to enjoy the ride, not study the wear of the asphalt.

The threat to country roads seems to have migrated south, where it sounds like a dug-in Gibraltar Town Board on July 3 mostly dismissed the pleas of property owners unhappy with the 42-foot-wide swath that Gibraltar Bluff Road now wanders through, with rustic Cottage Row Road now in the sights of the clear-cutters.

These clear zones along the road allow you to drive faster and see deer and other potential obstacles well in advance. But why would you want to drive faster along these roads, except in an emergency, and do you build a road for every day or for the rare emergency?

Red and I had a discussion after the Fish Creek fireworks after I opted for “the road less traveled” getting home and took Cottage Row Road. We crept through a crowd of people as they walked to their cars parked along the road, which wasn’t built with a parking lane.

There was barely room for a car to get by, and newly started cars pointed north had to wait for the line of southbound cars to clear before they could make much progress. It was very slow going.

If there had been an emergency, it could have been a disaster. But there was no emergency. The road eventually cleared. And Cottage Row Road became Cottage Row Road again.

Red saw the clogged traffic and the mob and thought it might be prudent to find a way to “modernize” the roadway while preserving its character. I saw the old stone walls and the big trees and thought how lovely a country road is, just as it is.

After the July 3 meeting Alan Stover, a Gibraltar property owner from Brookfield whose family has been paying taxes on a bit of Gibraltar Bluff Road since 1935, wrote a letter to the board as a member of the original ownership that established the southern half of that road.

“The area was heavily wooded and we wanted that canopy of trees to remain,” Stover said. “We wanted a scenic path that followed the contour of the land with a certain meandering style adding to the beauty of the ‘subdivision.’”

Stover noted the board’s response that the clear zone “doesn’t look that bad” and observed, “That answer shows even they concede it’s ugly.”

And he recalled the fight back in 1988 when 10,000 signatures asked Gov. Tommy Thompson to scale back the Wisconsin 42 project: “Where are the old warriors that stood against dumb ideas?”

The Stovers can’t vote in the town of Gibraltar, but say “it is not a reason to disrespect our views.” I don’t vote there either – my own stake in Door County is not far from the welcome sign along Wisconsin 57 – but I can and do advocate for a little sanity in protecting the lovely back country roads that bring so many people here in the first place.

Cross-posted to Door County Advocate

No comments: