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Posted on Wed, Apr 17, 2013 : 5:57 a.m.

Gravel roads keep Scio Township unique

By Guest Column

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood. I took the one less traveled by,

and that has made all the difference.”— Robert Frost

The poet Robert Frost wrote those lines about dirt roads and metaphorically taking the course in life that not everyone else will take. It’s hard to imagine that anyone could be so inspired by the paved roads that today are part of our daily lives.


Repairs on local roads in Scio Township could be funded by a township-wide special assessment district. file photo

Poetry still potentially exists, though, in Scio Township’s miles of scenic unpaved roads. In their current state of disrepair, they are often problematic for some who have to drive them every day. That’s why it’s important to support the township-wide special assessment district (SAD) proposal being considered for gravel-road repair.

But if you live near a gravel road in Scio, some of your neighbors are seeking to have your roads not repaired, but paved. Widened, flattened, straightened, and drawn with lines. And that’s a problem.

Why? We could argue about the various environmental impacts of roads in general and of paved roads in particular. We could talk increased traffic and traffic speeds, toxic runoff, increased exhaust emissions and their effect on respiratory health, stress caused by noise pollution, and the disruption of animal habitat. But the other essential aspect to consider is that gravel roads touch not just our practical natures — the parts of us that want clean cars and quicker commutes — but our emotional sides as well.

A gravel road is more than a conveyance for vehicles. It also conveys something less tangible — a sense of beauty, timelessness, and place. Gravel roads are evocative. They connect us to each other in the present, but also to those in our past. They remind us of our rural heritage.

Like a hiking path through the woods, roads made of natural materials like gravel and dirt connect us more to nature and feel more natural than do the petroleum-based products in paved roads. The field of ecopsychology, and books like “Last Child in the Woods,” urge us to realize, before it’s too late, that there is something meaningful and permanently lost in our human experience and psychological well-being when we divorce ourselves from the natural. It matters.

The concept of “place” these days doesn’t mean what it used to. When we blithely let go of parts of places that have been around for a long time, that have shaped the character of communities, that reflect a certain ethos and set of values, we are proceeding into the future without honoring the character of places that have shaped us. We are putting the beauty and joy of the natural behind the temporal allure of the artificial. So why pave the road if you can repair it instead? When we look back in twenty years, will we see a missed opportunity to stop increased traffic and degradation of a way of life?

Gravel roads have their pitfalls, not to mention their potholes. But your Aunt Susie has warts and you love her just the same. In this age of instant gratification, of synthetics and chemicals, of engineered perfection, it can be deeply satisfying to just have something that’s slower, and made of natural materials, and that’s familiar and rural. Repairing the gravel roads lets us retain the character that makes this place special.

Paving takes Scio in the direction of being just another generic, soulless place that used to be beautiful. That’s a sad fate, but one that we have the power to avoid. Stand up for repairing the gravel roads but against any local SAD for paving, and make your voice heard. Because in this ever-changing world, the road less traveled by is worth preserving.

The community meeting with the Scio Township Road Commission and the Roads Committee is taking place at 7 p.m. Wednesday.

Laura Carter Robinson is a clinical psychologist in Ann Arbor and the co-founder of the newly formed group Friends of Scio Gravel Roads, which can be found on Facebook here.



Thu, Apr 18, 2013 : 2:37 p.m.

When I moved to Park Rd in Scio in 1989, Zeeb and Jackson was a 4 way stop (signs, not even flashing red lights). Since then, Country French Estates and Arbor Point have gone in with entrances onto Park Rd. Meijers was built. We have given up our isolation and now enjoy bags of McDonald's and Wendy's tossed out into our natural beauty. We enjoy degraded roads due to the increased traffic. We enjoy less care to our roads as there is less money to repair them. So, yes, I appreciate a road less traveled, but these roads are not less traveled anymore and those realities must be confronted. Nothing stays the same.

Ann English

Fri, Apr 19, 2013 : 11:10 p.m.

I remember how in the early eighties, Zeeb Road south of Jackson Road was a dirt road. "Country French Estates" must be the name of the subdivision with French-named streets. I've always referred to it as the "French" subdivision. Thank you for giving its name; I don't drive in that area as often as I did in the early eighties. Changing Jackson Road into a boulevard helps keep through traffic moving. Left-turners use special left-turn lanes, removing them from the through lanes. Putting a simple right-turn ramp from northbound Zeeb to eastbound I-94 (sorry you had to go in order to make room for it, Mobil gas station) helped keep northbound traffic on Zeeb Road moving; the southbound traffic already had a 270-degree entrance ramp onto eastbound I-94, but all Zeeb Road traffic had to use it 30 years ago.


Thu, Apr 18, 2013 : 1:21 a.m.

Ingham County has just over 82 miles of gravel roads now according to this report. There is a reason for that.

The Picker

Thu, Apr 18, 2013 : 12:25 a.m.

It was only a matter of time before the Ann Arboroids had fully occupied our little Twp. and make it over in its image. As long as were paving we should think about extending the sewer and water systems out our way. Curbs, gutters, why not ? Were this far, what the heck lets just annex to the city, so we can participate in all its glories. Leave Scio alone! If you need paving and high taxes there are many nice subdivisions, which can fill your needs.

Claude Kershner

Wed, Apr 17, 2013 : 7:31 p.m.

Only in Ann Arbor would an article be published in favor of gravel/unpacked roads. I can't help thinking this article was written while enjoying the hash bash....


Wed, Apr 17, 2013 : 7:15 p.m.

The Road Commission does a poor job of maintaining them. They ALWAYS do the roads before a rain & they turn to mush( like goose poop). A WASTE of TIME& MONEY to the townships.


Wed, Apr 17, 2013 : 6:49 p.m.

I live off one of the dirt roads in Scio, and except for maybe 1 week a year, it isn't really that bad. like others, I moved our there to be off the beaten path. My questions about this whole thing would be: would the assessment just provide more money to the county to do the work, or would it be sub-contracted? would the county abandon these roads all togeither? Given the way things usually go in the Twp, i'm sure there would be complaining by people on road X that road Y is getting more attention than their road.

Ann English

Wed, Apr 17, 2013 : 10:19 p.m.

Sounds like you live on a dirt dead-end road, such as Morrison. I can envision speeders on at least part of Peters Road.


Wed, Apr 17, 2013 : 6:04 p.m.

I used to do a lot of work over in Ingham Township a lot. I was Miss Dig at the time. That is the township that the state capitol is in in case anyone doesn't know. When I worked over there I had a chance to talk to quite a few people who worked on their road commission. At that time they were paving stretches of gravel roads in the County and had less than 100 miles of dirt road left to pave. When I asked why they told me that it is LESS expensive to maintain a paved road than a dirt road. Exactly the opposite of what Deedee said above. Of course you don't see a whole lot of maintenance of either kind of road in our county.

michael Limmer

Wed, Apr 17, 2013 : 5:44 p.m.

Having spent the first thirty years of my life in northwest Ohio, I was amazed by the dirt roads I saw in Michigan. All roads in NW Ohio were paved back then, even the most rural ones. They have only been a lane and a half wide, but they were paved.


Thu, Apr 18, 2013 : 3:29 a.m.

I have ridden a bike across the state many times and Washtenaw County has less paved roads than any other county I have ridden in. This is a big reason why cyclists have to use main roads to go anywhere in the county. The western part of the state, the Whitehall area comes to mind, it is easy to find a less traveled paved road.


Wed, Apr 17, 2013 : 7:18 p.m.

OHIO has wonderful roads & the freeways are GREAT.


Wed, Apr 17, 2013 : 4:39 p.m.

The choices available are more than unchanged vs. paved and I don't think it is useful to think of it as a dichotomy. I can think of at least 4 choices for our unpaved roads: 1) No change - keep the roads dirt and poorly drained. Accept mud, dust, and vehicle damage. 2) Add crushed limestone to the roads (AKA "gravel roads") and re-engineer as needed to ensure drainage 3) Where feasible, chip seal the limestone to lock it in place and further reduce holes, dust and mud 4) Replace existing dirt roads with modern paved roads To me #1 is a bad choice that I would gladly pay to avoid (since I already pay to endure it anyways). Of the other three options I see #2 is a no brainer, #3 is awesome where possible, and #4 is a maybe in some places


Wed, Apr 17, 2013 : 4:29 p.m.

For me -- a Scio Township resident of some years -- I like the "rural-ness" of the non-paved roads, and do not hope for the speed demons found on the paved roads. Keep 'em unpaved.


Wed, Apr 17, 2013 : 7:19 p.m.

they Speed no matter what!


Wed, Apr 17, 2013 : 6:06 p.m.

I guess you haven't seen the "speed demons" who regularly travel the dirt roads in the county as if they could afford to buy a new car every week. Plenty of speeders on the dirt roads as well.


Wed, Apr 17, 2013 : 3:41 p.m.

The author seems to be unaware that Scio has almost no "gravel roads". That is a misconception that assumes the roads have a rock surface. The roads are in fact just dirt, usually with a high clay content. When they have been graded recently and if they have stayed dry, the roads are charming and comfortable for cars, bikes and pedestrians. The other 11 months of the year the dirt becomes soup and the surface craters. Under these conditions the roads destroy car suspensions, are unsafe and uncomfortable for biking, and those walking them are covered in clay goop and must step carefully. And even when dry the roads can "washboard" to the point of rattling teeth (on car or bike) and the dust is awful for those who like near the roads. If these were indeed gravel roads (or more likely crushed limestone) they would be much more serviceable. However, there has not been a serious effort to add rock to the roads in a long time (decades?). The dirt roads of Michigan are not much more advanced than the two track carriage paths that were here 150 years ago, and no more convenient to use.

Robert DuBert

Thu, Apr 18, 2013 : 11:32 a.m.

Well said! These are DIRT roads, not gravel, they're a disgrace, and have no place in residential suburban areas.

Laura Robinson

Wed, Apr 17, 2013 : 3:13 p.m.

To clarify a few misconceptions: I've lived off a gravel road in Scio Township for 8 months and have driven on that same road for many years; I also grew up around dirt and gravel roads. So my acquaintance with the difficulties imposed by poorly maintained gravel roads can't be realistically called into question. This is an opinion article, not a research paper. There are many factual reasons not to support paving, and they were intentionally not included in this article. They will be handed out tonight at the meeting; they can also be found on our facebook page. One fact worth noting is that Delhi Metropark on East Delhi Road gets 32,000 vehicles per year; that's 64,000 vehicle trips. If the road were to be paved, It's hard to argue that a lot more of that traffic wouldn't come down East Delhi from Miller. We don't have that level of traffic now. It's clear from the article that I don't support a nostalgic return to the days of horses, buggies, and horrible gravel roads. What I do support is repairing the roads to an excellent condition, which is what is proposed by the township SAD. North Maple, between Joy Rd and Huron River Drive, has been repaired in this way and is useful to examine for comparison purposes.


Wed, Apr 17, 2013 : 4 p.m.

Agree that the proposed SAD to convert our clay roads to crushed limestone surface would be a HUGE benefit for everyone. I'm less compelled that chip sealing said limestone to create a more stable and dust free surface is going to 1) reduce the semi rural character of the township, 2) increase the maintenance cost, or 3) significantly increase the traffic in the area. I am convinced that chip-sealing would be better for users than just limestone alone. I'm still undecided on the relative merits of paving (classic asphalt) vs. sealing crush limestone.


Wed, Apr 17, 2013 : 2:37 p.m.

Four words "Only in a Jeep" Buy yourself a Wrangler people and enjoy the bumps.


Wed, Apr 17, 2013 : 2:20 p.m.

"Two roads diverged in a yellow wood. I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference."ā€” Robert Frost Although your link has the correct quote, the first quoted sentence in this article is the first line of the poem, but the last quoted sentence is comprised of the last two lines of this twenty-line poem. Either use an ellipsis (or some other marker) to indicate content between the two quoted sentences, or just quote it correctly as: "Two roads diverged in a wood, and Iā€” I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference."


Wed, Apr 17, 2013 : 2:11 p.m.

When I become president the first thing I will do is make sure every single gravel/dirt road is paved. I hate dirt roads.

Cory C

Wed, Apr 17, 2013 : 1:51 p.m.

Keep the dirt roads! Please! As a Subaru driver who has more fun sideways and muddy than straight and fast, keep the dirt roads.


Wed, Apr 17, 2013 : 1:46 p.m.

Pave 'em. Time for Scio Township to join the 20th century.

Jeff Westbrooks

Wed, Apr 17, 2013 : 1:31 p.m.

What I find most interesting is the roads Robert Frost spoke could have been Ann Arbor roads.


Wed, Apr 17, 2013 : 1:30 p.m.

Dictionary: Unique: ". . . the only one of its kind." I can appreciate the author's points, but the title, indicating that it is unique because it has gravel roads, is worth a good laugh.

Ann English

Wed, Apr 17, 2013 : 3:36 p.m.

Easy to think of the gravel roads in Webster Township and Northfield Township instead. When I first drove on Munger Road 1996, I was surprised that a dirt road very similar to Scio's, actually existed in Ypsilanti Township. It does wake one up from the idea that roads in one area are unique when actually driving on them; it doesn't have the same effect when riding past them as a child.


Wed, Apr 17, 2013 : 1:10 p.m.

Hmmm, this sentimentalized, kinda irrational discussion doesn't work for me personally - and I've lived on a dirt road in (even more)rural Lodi twp for nearly 20 years. There are good arguments for not paving them, the main one being that paved road are more expensive to maintain, and they local government units can't afford to maintain them as it is. We have conversations going on all over Michigan about turning paved roads back into gravel for this exact reason. Unfortunately, they also do a lousy job of building/maintaining the dirt roads - in many many cases, the road way is below grade, which means it is essentially unmaintainable ("if you can drain it, you can maintain it" as they say in Civil Engineering 101) . If all those dirt roads had real ditches, 2-3 feet deep on both sides, and the capped them with limestone every 3-5 years, many of the things that people complain about would go away. For some reason, the local road commissions seem unable to take on board the simple notion that the road should be ABOVE the shoulder, not the other way around. So, by all means develop a sound strategy for addressing the real problems but this trivial pablum doesn't address the issues


Wed, Apr 17, 2013 : 3:47 p.m.

Agree that sunken road beds made of clay are not the way to go. Disagree that WCRC simply needs to make a decision to add crushed limestone-- that takes money and the state does not provide enough to gravel our dirt roads. Not really a stand for or against WCRC, just an economic fact

Rhonda Montoya

Wed, Apr 17, 2013 : 1:01 p.m.

The author has lived on a dirt road in Scio Township for less than 5 months, not through a Spring or Fall when the dirt roads are virtually impassible, which I suspect is why she still has this romantic view of traveling down them. She has not endured years of maneuvering the dirt roads when they are a maze of washboard rough pot holes, turning them into one lane, two track zigzag paths. I respectfully suggest she drive on the dirt roads a few years to truly experience the wrath and costliness their toll takes on vehicles. Dirt roads produce dust and dirt that accumulates on home's windows and patios as well as inside the house on everything. I agree the country roads are scenic and I enjoy their beauty, however, they are extremely dangerous because they are lined with trees that are much too close to the road and the loose gravel is like rolling on marbles when turning or stopping suddenly for the numerous deer population that exists along them. Paving the dirt roads will not take ". . . Scio in the direction of being just another generic, soulless place that used to be beautiful." Huron River Drive in Scio is paved, and it is one of the most beautiful drives anywhere in the country

The Picker

Thu, Apr 18, 2013 : 12:08 a.m.

Slow down and learn to drive !

Ann English

Wed, Apr 17, 2013 : 3:29 p.m.

Let Laura try Tubbs Road. I picture a tree with a trunk diameter of over 12" that sits nearer Tubbs than other trees, south of Oakmore Court. And Liberty Road, between Honey Run Drive and Stag's Leap Lane, prone to flooding. It IS easy to stir up dust on dirt roads, whichever township they're in. What does Laura anticipate, a cicada return? A rural area is better for observing them, and they can be heard better without the noise of whizzing traffic nearby. Five months of living here isn't long enough to encounter trees fallen over on the gravel roads. Hours go by before they're removed from the roads, and no radio station reports them.


Wed, Apr 17, 2013 : 1 p.m.

As someone who lives in Scio, and who regularly contends with the carpet-bomb effect, the mud baths, and the boulders that pass for repair, I sympathize with those who want asphalt. On the other hand, I resonate with those who would prefer to avoid the inevitable speed freaks, the runoff, and the expense of maintenance - not to mention the fact that, eventually, many of our "paved" roads are worse than those that remain unpaved. In the end, it might be best to find a middle path, which might include a "rebuilding" of most of the gravel roads so that they more consistently maintain their integrity, and paving one or two of the most difficult stretches of a few of the worst places and leave our rustic character as is.


Wed, Apr 17, 2013 : 3:50 p.m.

Since they are not actually "gravel" roads, but instead are just clay, I would agree that a step in the right direction would be to to change the road surface for dirt to rock.

Susan Scott Morales, MSW

Wed, Apr 17, 2013 : 11:56 a.m.

Well said!


Wed, Apr 17, 2013 : 11:48 a.m.

I can't tell if the writer has done too much thinking in this case, or too little.


Wed, Apr 17, 2013 : 11:25 a.m.

"Two roads diverged in a yellow wood. I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference."ā€” Robert Frost That's all well and good when the road in question is actually less traveled. Unfortunately, your article ignores the fact that these dirt roads are no longer "less traveled" and need to be paved to keep up with the amount of traffic they receive. Your nostalgia is great, just not reasonable.


Wed, Apr 17, 2013 : 12:51 p.m.

And if they were paved there would be twice as much traffic. Paved roads would be even harder for farmers to move their equipment with the heavier faster traffic. Most of the paved roads around here are just about as rough as the paved ones. The ones who want them paved are just in a hurry ask the ones who live on them if they think or want them paved. After all they are the ones whose taxes go up when the road is paved, not the commuters.


Wed, Apr 17, 2013 : 11:08 a.m.

People choose to live on gravel roads. If they wanted a home on a paved road, they would have purchased a home on a paved road.


Wed, Apr 17, 2013 : 1:04 p.m.

well, the problem is that a lot of them just THINK they want to live on a gravel road. Then they get there and complain about the mud, the maintenance, their neighbor's cows, the smell of the neighbor's cows, etc. Best reason for hanging on to gravel roads is to keep the folks who belong in town, in town...


Wed, Apr 17, 2013 : 12:45 p.m.

@basicbob, It is better than clorinated water that comes from who knows where.

Basic Bob

Wed, Apr 17, 2013 : 11:31 a.m.

maybe some people like septic tanks and sulfurous well water, too.


Wed, Apr 17, 2013 : 10:24 a.m.

Wow. Friends of Gravel Roads. Now I've seen everything.

Craig Lounsbury

Wed, Apr 17, 2013 : 11:46 a.m.