Lebanon Hills survey explained

To the editor:

I can’t idly sit by and let the assertion appearing in a recent letter to the editor of this newspaper suggesting that 60 percent of people polled by Dakota County oppose paved trails in Lebanon Hills go unchallenged.

About a year ago, a very unscientific Survey Monkey survey conducted by Dakota County asked people what park uses they would support and one third answered paved trails. This was considered by county staff to be high considering the make up of respondents. The other two thirds didn’t oppose paved trails: They simply had different choices. Based on the findings of this unscientific survey,  the writer might want to suggest that if I go out for diner with two friends and I order a steak but the other two order something else that it means two thirds of us are opposed to steak.

Earlier this year  a poll was conducted for Dakota County by the National Research Center with a margin of error of 4 percent. When asked what uses they would support in Dakota County Parks such as Lebanon Hills, respondents were given eight specific choices and a ninth choice of “other.” Sixty-six percent selected the choice of “Trail networks for hiking, biking or skiing.”

Those who oppose paved trails in Lebanon Hills have an absolute right to their opinion; but they can’t create their own facts.

Tom Egan
Eagan
Dakota County commissioner, Third District

  • Holly Jenkins

    The “unscientific Survey Monkey” Commissioner Egan refers to took place from July 8 to August 8, 2012, and focused specifically on Lebanon Hills.

    When asked to rank the “Overall Importance of Activities among General Users” — the Top Three activities are: #1 was Hiking/Trail Running (96%), #2 was Bird/Wildlife Watching (78.8%), #3 was Viewing Native Plants (78%)…followed closely by #4 was Snowshoeing (74.3%) and #5 was Cross Country Skiing (72.5%). Coming in at #12 Walking on Paved Trails (43.3%), #17 Biking on Paved Trails (32%), #23…lowest rank…In-line skating (8%).

    The second survey Commissioner Egan refers to is the 2013 Dakota County Residential Survey, which focused on Dakota County Parks System.

    One question on this survey was with regard to the importance of “…activities and services to be provided in Dakota County Parks, such as Lebanon Hills, Thompson County Park or Spring Lake Park”. Protecting/restoring woods, prairies, lakes, ponds and wetlands was ranked highest (71%), “Other” came in 4th (61%). “Developing more recreational facilities in County Parks” came in 7th (51%). As mentioned in Commissioner Egan’s letter, “Trail networks for hiking, biking or skiing” was ranked 2nd (66%).

    Another question in the survey asked “How important, if at all, is it to continue investing County funds for these purposes.” Four categories were listed: “Protect lakes, streams, wetlands from pollution (79% felt important); Protect the highest-rated natural areas (75%); Protect farmland from future development (65%), and ranked lowest “Develop more paved regional recreational trails” (50%).

    With all due respect, Commissioner Egan, we are not creating our own facts.

    Whether these and other survey results provide a valid reason to propose a network of paved trails and other development throughout Lebanon Hills is subject to interpretation.

    Lebanon Hills cannot be all things to all people, but it can and does offer all visitors an opportunity to enjoy nature-based recreation and a sense of wilderness. It’s lack of pavement and minimal development is what makes the park unique. Keeping it natural may not be the priority of all — but it is the priority of the majority.

  • Guest

    Well said, Holly Jenkins. I’m still waiting to encounter the “transparency” of the Planning Commission’s proposed plan to pave a path through the heart of Lebanon Hills Regional Hiking Trails. I think if more people, neighbors and park users, knew about the plan, more would oppose it. Fact.

  • Sue Fransen Way

    “Sixty-six percent selected the choice of “Trail networks for hiking, biking or skiing”.”

    Where in this statement is the word “paved”? I don’t see it…

    As for the “very unscientific Survey Monkey survey”, wouldn’t it be expected that an expense this large, and a project that would make permanent change/damage to a valuable local resource, warrant an actual scientific survey, one that didn’t require the making of assumptions “considering the makeup of the respondents”?

    From a Hiker/Trail runner who strongly opposes adding more asphalt or concrete to these woods, and a researcher who understands the dangers of making decisions based on poorly obtained and interpreted data.

  • Barry

    I would like to see more information on this survey. Thanks for providing more Holly. I would also like to know how the survey recipients were chosen too? I’m a regular user of Lebanon Hills and no one asked me my opinion. And why are the commissioners using a “unscientific Survey Monkey survey” to figure in the decisions anyway?

  • H Bill Way

    What I don’t understand is why Mr Egan chose to make a denigrating remark (ordering steaks) when “explaining” the difference in the survey results. The county commissioners have to date refused to address opponents respectfully. Snide and demeaning remarks are standard verbiage our ELECTED county officials use when addressing their constituents who disagree with them. Stick to the facts please, Mr Egan – all the facts. Ms Jenkins did a wonderful job comparing the surveys while being respectful at the same time. I would like to know several things about the survey conducted by the county. First and foremost, how big was the sampling of the NRC survey? Nobody I’ve talked to was surveyed. Few had even heard of the plan and none of those got their information from the county.
    The commissioners give out information that supports their position and, apparently, only hear information that agrees with them. That, to me, is not good public policy.

    • Dawn Udelhofen

      If we are to interpret Mr Egan’s clarification as denigrating, them I certainly must also do the same of the comments Ms. Jenkins made when I wrote a letter speaking for those of us in this community effected by mobility issues. Her response was basically that since the proposed trail wasn’t completely meet the strict guidelines of the American’s with Disabilities Act then it should be completely scraped. Having experience pushing my adult son in a wheelchair for nearly 20 years, I know that is just wrong thinking.
      I’ve been following this issue closely and every week Ms. Jenkins has a new angle she is slinging mud about this issue. As long as it in some way support her side she tries to pass it off as this week’s big smoke screen. The park commission is proposing a change that would make the park usable to more Dakota county residents; a population that is sorely underserved right now. Lebanon Hills isn’t just Ms. Jenkins’ playground. It belongs to ALL of us. Those of us pushing wheelchairs have yet to see it from anywhere else but the parking lot.

      • Holly Jenkins

        Dawn — as stated earlier in my response to your letter…if the proposed changes were about accessibility, this discussion would not be taking place. You’re putting words into my mouth — I never have said or suggested that accessibility trails should be scraped.

        This is not about accessibility — that goal alone can be achieved without excessive development. The proposed amount of development will change the character of this park. That is what I am concerned about. The wilderness character of Lebanon Hills is its greatest asset — the natural and tranquil setting it provides. It is a significant natural resource because it is one of the last remaining large habitats of this type in Dakota County. Development in Lebanon Hills should be part of an integrated comprehensive plan with other parks in Dakota County, preserving the natural communities not available at other parks.

        I agree with you — Lebanon Hills belongs to all of us. My hope is that as many people as possible are fully informed about this issue, so all who are concerned about the future of the park can provide valuable input.

      • Maryann Passe

        I will defend Bills comments because I have witnessed some astonishingly disrespectful behavior by some of our county Commissioners towards Holly as well as toward other residents. I have found Holly’s remarks to be oppositional but not disrespectful.

        As to your accessibility requirements: How to make wilderness accessible is the conundrum of all park departments from local to national. The question is how to make parkland accessible without destroying the parkland to make it accessible?

        So how much of Lebanon Hills needs to be paved over to make it acceptably
        accessible? And how should that be done to maintain the character of the park and the integrity of the environment?

        The proposed plan will build up EVERY trail head as they have around the Visitor’s Center.
        PLUS
        3-5 paved Greenway trails totaling over ten miles of paved trails, most of which will not be ADA compliant.

        How many of these trail and how far on each one will those with limited accessibility use?
        At what cost to the parkland? At what cost in dollars?

        We must demand that our Parks Department provide programming and innovative solutions for making this parkland available to people of all abilities without plowing it under and paving it over. People of all abilities deserve to experience the beautiful wilderness character of Lebanon Hills.

      • H Bill Way

        Dawn,
        I can’t speak to the letter you mention only to Commissioner Egan’s comments which were far less than a clarification. I can say that those of us who oppose the paved trails are neither simple minded nor selfish (playground). Neither do we selectively cite data to support our position. Yes, this park belongs to ‘ALL of us’ which means, by default that anyone can oppose (or support) the proposed pavement. Indeed what we are trying to say is that the more people who learn about the proposal the greater the opposition is.
        I certainly don’t agree that Ms Jenkins or any of us in opposition are ‘slinging mud’. We are disagreeing with the proposal and want to be treated with respect in our disagreement.
        I am veteran with 100% service connected disability. I am not wheelchair bound but I am very sympathetic with those who are. In Eagan alone there are ’55 City parks totaling approximately 1,400 acres, the equivalent of over 2 square miles.’ (From their website) Most have paved trails. There is also the paved Highline Trail. Rosemount has 27 parks, Apple Valley has 49. That’s 131 parks surrounding Lebanon Hills, most of which have paved trails. Granted none of them are across the street from your home like Lebanon Hills is but really, isn’t that enough pavement?
        Dakota County Parks has a promotional catch phrase “Forever Wild” . All we trying to do is to ask them to own up to that phrase and not just use it for clever marketing.

  • Maryann Passe

    Commissioner Egan, the fact is that the proposed plans for Lebanon Hills will dramatically and permanently change the park. You claim the two surveys support this change in direction, yet below are two other survey responses that completely contradict it. First:

    From the 2011 Dakota County Residential Survey:
    “When asked what was most important for future investment in open space
    and parkland, residents were most interested in seeing natural areas remain
    natural. They asked that lakes, streams, and wetlands be protected from
    pollution, that natural areas and farmland be protected from development before
    resources are used to develop more parks, trails, or facilities.”

    Second: The proposed changes are enormously expensive to build. And enormously expensive to maintain – each year each mile of trail, every picnic shelter, etc will demand county tax money for maintenance. Yet look at this survey response about taxes:

    2013 Dakota County Residential Survey
    “When asked about support for or opposition to increasing property taxes to maintain
    County services at current levels,fewer respondents supported this idea than opposed it; 4 in 10 “somewhat” or “strongly” supported an increase, while 6 in 10 opposed it.”

    That means 60% more residents would prefer to cut services than raise taxes. How does this data support the expensive plans for Lebanon Hills?

  • Maryann Passe

    Commissioner Egan, your frustration with plan opponents would be more
    credible if you sited the actual data fully and clearly for readers.

    The
    fact is that the proposed plans for Lebanon Hills will dramatically and
    permanently change the character of the park. It appears the county and
    county commissioners have interpreted survey responses to support this
    change in direction. However, here are two resident survey responses
    that directly contradict your interpretation.

    First from the
    2011 Dakota County Residential Survey (which would have been the current
    data when the proposed master plan was prepared for its first open
    house in July 2012):

    “When asked what was most important for
    future investment in open space and parkland, residents were most
    interested in seeing natural areas remain natural. They asked that
    lakes, streams, and wetlands be protected from pollution, that natural
    areas and farmland be protected from development before resources are
    used to develop more parks, trails, or facilities. Residents were also
    most interested in participating in activities in parks that were best
    supported by having natural areas. Of possible activities, non-motorized
    recreation such as biking, hiking, canoeing, skiing and opportunities to hunt and fish were most important to them.”

    Secondly,
    the proposed changes are enormously expensive to build and maintain.
    Every year, every mile of every trail, every picnic shelter, etc. will
    require county tax dollars – its all new stuff to be added to the budget for maintenance.

    From the 2013 Dakota County Residential Survey: “When
    asked about support for, or opposition to, increasing property taxes to
    maintain County services at current levels, fewer respondents supported
    this idea than opposed it; 4 in 10 “somewhat” or “strongly” supported
    an increase, while 6 in 10 opposed it.”

    In other words, 60% of residents oppose raising taxes. How was this survey response calculated into the expensive plans for Lebanon Hills?

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