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Lighting expected to make back trail safer

April 13, 2012

It is officially called the back trail, but students know it by another name: the rape trail. After years of planning, this unlit pathway behind UW-River Falls could have lights installed along it as early as next spring, a University administrator said.

Director of Facilities Management Mike Stifter said the University is just starting to consider options for lighting the trail, but said that he expects the project to get underway in the next 12 to 18 months.

“We’ve made this a top-priority project, especially because of the student support to try to make it a reality,” Stifter said.

The Student Senate approved an expenditure of $16,503.52 from the University Reserve Account to be put towards lighting the trail at a Senate meeting on March 20. The motion was forwarded by Senator Ben Blanchard, who chairs a committee tasked with researching ways to spend built up reserve funds. The money will likely cover only a portion of the lighting project, but Stifter said it sends a message that students are serious about lighting the trail.

“We’ve not defined the project enough to know if it will be $200,000 or $15,000,” Stifter said. “The money offered by the Student Senate is more of a gesture of support.”

Chief among the costs of lighting the trail would be installing electrical infrastructure under the ground. Alternatively, one concept would use solar panels to power the lights, avoiding an infrastructure project entirely.

“You may spend a little bit more on the technology, but if it saves us on a whole ton of infrastructure running along that trail, than it may be worth it,” Stifter said.

Another potential technology for the project is a motiondetection system that would dim the lights when no one is around.

The back trail runs from the University Center and South Forks Suites to Ramer Field and the intramural sports fields. Warning signs posted at trail openings state that “the pathway is not lit at night and is minimally maintained during the winter months.”

The movement to light the trail gained momentum in 2008, but the project was put on hold until an expansion could be made to South Forks Suites and a new physical education center could be built, Stifter said. The projects will increase foot traffic on the trail, making it more likely for the project to get funding from the state government.

“The best chance to get those monies would be a real need,” Stifter said. “With the Falcon Center moving into a formal design and a new residence hall ready to come online in the fall, the legitimate need is right there before us.”

UWRF freshmen Sarah Stoneburg and Kaitie Guza use the trail to get to the intramural softball fields, but said they try to avoid it as much as possible.

“It’s because I’m afraid to [use it],” Stoneburg said. “I’d walk back by myself, and I pretty much ran the whole way,” Guza said. “So yeah, it’s kind of scary.”

Violent crime at UWRF is rare, but not unheard of. There were two forcible sex offenses on the UWRF campus reported between 2008 and 2010, and two more reported in campus residence halls during the same years, according to the most recent University Annual Security Report.

A UWRF student was sexually assaulted in 2006 while walking between the Ramer Field parking lot and the UWRF campus.

Stifter said campus safety is the primary factor driving the lighting project.

“We’re fortunate to have quite a safe campus,” Stifter said. “But we’d certainly not want to leave ourselves vulnerable to what can happen.”