GIRARD — Several area residents showed up at Tuesday’s meeting of the Crawford County Commission to voice their concerns about a plan to turn an unused railway into a trail.
The commission approved an initial step towards creating the trail, which was proposed by Live Well Crawford County and the Active Transportation Advisory Board, in coordination with Watco Companies, last month.
Crawford County resident Mark Scales said he had not seen any specific plan detailing the trail proposal.
“The only plan that I’ve seen was in your transportation master plan,” Scales said, adding the estimated cost according to that plan was $3.5 million. “And that didn’t include anything for fencing, maintenance, or anything like that.”
Scales said in addition to maintenance, concerns of landowners with property adjacent to the proposed trail site include littering, fire safety, law enforcement, liability, and use of motorcycles and ATVs on the trail.
“So there’s a lot of questions that I know the County Commissioners have asked but haven’t got the answers,” he said.
“I think where we’re at is this is still pretty preliminary, for us and for Live Well,” said Crawford County Counselor Jim Emerson in response to those concerns. “I would expect that there will be a lot more information as they move forward.”
Commissioner Tom Moody added he did not want to see the County responsible for maintaining the trail, or to have its name on the lease for the land required, due to concerns about liability.
Another meeting was scheduled for Tuesday in Fort Scott “to unveil and celebrate” the broader “ABC Trails” plan, according to the website ABC Trails is a partnership of nonprofit organizations Thrive Allen County, the Healthy Bourbon County Action Team and Live Well Crawford County, according to Thrive Allen County’s website. Commissioner Jeremy Johnson said he planned to attend the Fort Scott meeting, though no formal decisions were expected to be made.
In response to questions from the Morning Sun, Johnson said Tuesday that “concerns raised at the meeting this morning did not come up at the event in Fort Scott, since the event was focused on the collaboration between the three counties on marketing and developing a regional trail system.”
“The Watco trail will be a component of that system, but the development process it'll go through is really separate from the ABC Trails project,” he added. “Those questions and concerns should all be addressed as the Watco trail's development process commences."
County residents who own land near the proposed trail also have concerns about the ownership of the abandoned rail line and whether it is really eligible for “railbanking,” described on the website of the nonprofit group Rails to Trails Conservancy as “a voluntary agreement between a railroad company and a trail agency to use an out-of-service rail corridor as a trail until a railroad might need the corridor again for rail service.”
Area resident Perry Cummins said it was his understanding that as long as a railroad remained in use, or even if it was abandoned, the land it was on remained under railroad control, but “at the time of which it changes purpose, becomes something other than a railroad, it reverts back to the landowners.”
“It even states that on my mother’s deed,” he added.
Commissioner Moody seemed to add some support to this legal interpretation, saying that when a railroad was abandoned in Frontenac several years ago, maintenance of the land it was on reverted back to the adjoining landowners.
Live Well could not be reached for comment by press time.
“I’m not against a bike trail,” said Moody, but added that he wanted to see the concerns of nearby residents addressed and appropriately handled before the plan was finalized.
“I’m not saying there’s not a place for this,” said Scales, adding that trails within Pittsburg’s city limits seem to work well enough. “I’m not sure how much they’re utilized, but I don’t think there’s anything detrimental,” he said.