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FRIES — Fries Town Council held a longer monthly meeting than usual on Nov. 6, mostly due to a prolonged and passionate discussion about a proposed birding trail.
At issue is whether the town can use a grant, which was awarded to rebuild the old Fries train depot, for developing the trail.
The depot project has been in development for a decade, but has never come to fruition.
Tom and Delieta Guy and David Phillips, representing local birding groups, spoke to council during the time reserved for citizens’ comments about the birding trail that would be located on an island in the New River close to Fries School.
The island is about a third of a mile long and is about nine or 10 acres of undisturbed land where rare kinds of birds frequently stop along their migration routes. Guy and Phillips recently cleared a path on the trail so that it could be inspected, and the group, along with many other Fries residents, hope to make even more progress with the project soon.
During the meeting, Guy read a prepared statement about the trail to the council and played up the location’s potential. He said the trail would likely bring more people to the area and be a site not only for bird watchers to visit, but also school groups.
He said that many interested people have already toured the island, and the project has received guidance from professional consultants like local nature blogger Bill Dunson and other individuals and organizations.
He quoted Dunson in saying that the trail “has the most potential of any birding site I’ve seen.”
Council members seemed to agree with Guy about the site’s potential and that it would be an asset to Fries, but they were hesitant to move any further without input from Town Manager Brian Reed, who was not present at the meeting.
Fries originally planned to use part of an $180,000 transportation enhancement grant (TEA-21) for rebuilding the town’s train depot as a visitors’ center and history display about 10 years ago. Some of that grant money has already been used for trail design, environmental impact studies, permits, mapping and grant administration fees for the depot.
At the meeting, council hesitated to move forward due to concern that the town might lose the money if they acted too quickly to use it for something else — like the birding trail — without consulting the providers of the grant.
When council made it clear they did not want to take any unnecessary risks in moving forward too soon, Guy requested that he be allowed to at least maintain the land and possibly plant some flowers and construct some birdhouses.
Council again was hesitant to allow permission for Guy’s request.
After a long deliberation, council voted unanimously to contact Reed to decide the best course of action.
More about the trail will be discussed at the next Fries Town Council meeting on Dec. 4.