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August 1999

Fiber and foot power: Two new agreements make for happy trails

A city employee takes the wraps off Boulder's newly purchased SWECO Trail Dozer on the Walter Orr Roberts Trail. (Photos by Carlye Calvin.)

The NCAR mesa has hosted thousands of hikers and shipped out billions of bytes of data for years. The future of both activities was enhanced last month. In a Mesa Lab ceremony on 1 July, UCAR cemented a long-time but previously informal arrangement with the city of Boulder. The pact assures public access to the network of trails behind the building, including links to city open space, and establishes city maintenance of some UCAR trails.

UCAR president Rick Anthes and Boulder city manager Ron Secrist (right) put pen to paper to guarantee public access to the mesa trails.

One week later, officials from UCAR, NCAR, the city, the University of Colorado, NOAA, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) met on the mesa to celebrate the formal initiation of the Boulder Research and Administrative Network. By next spring, BRAN will be one of the world's few fiber-optic highways shared, financed, and maintained by a citywide consortium. (See the June 1999 Staff Notes Monthly for a full report on BRAN.)

Although in some senses a formality, the trails agreement clarifies the relationship between UCAR and the city's Open Space Department in a way that satisfies all parties involved and minimizes the potential for future misunderstanding. The city used the event, which took place at the head of the Walter Orr Roberts Weather Trail, to unveil its new trail-clearing machine. The SWECO Trail Dozer was purchased last month after a similar model had been leased by the city for four years. It's a mini-bulldozer that can do more trail work in two weeks than a five-member crew can accomplish in a year, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

Speed was also a key theme at the BRAN kickoff. "Today we can transfer about 100 megabits in one second from the Mesa Lab to the Foothills Lab," said UCAR president Rick Anthes. "By next year, we hope to transfer at 9,000 times [that rate]." Originally named BARN (Boulder Area Research Network), the vision for BRAN originated with NOAA's Kent Groninger and was fleshed out in less than two years by a multi-institutional task force. Construction began in July.

"To get something done [involving all these sectors] in one year is just incredible," noted Rick. "It shows you the power of the idea." David Norcross, director of the Boulder branch of NIST, expressed excitement at the prospect of linking NIST's state-of-the-art time and frequency facilities on Broadway with laser facilities at JILA, the CU-NIST facility on campus formerly known as the Joint Institute for Laboratory Astrophysics.

According to Boulder city manager Ron Secrist, "BRAN is representative of community at its best . . . pooling resources and talking about the greater good." And in contrast to Denver International Airport and the upcoming Broncos stadium, the projected cost for BRAN is holding steady. NCAR director Bob Serafin gave high marks to the project's technical committee. "Their detailed technical planning and advice has been outstanding and essential to the project," Bob commented after the ceremony. "They were able to answer every technical question posed. Their budget estimates from two years ago are still accurate today." •BH


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