Gravel roads keep Scio Township unique
“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.
AnnArbor.com 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.