Letters (Week of April 30, 2008)

Trails issues given no clear voice in county

It comes as no surprise that trail issues in Marion and McPherson counties continues to be frustrating, confusing and volatile.

To begin with, the Central Kansas Conservancy is not a responsible party in the issues of trail development. CKC lacks leadership, the organization fails to build and sustain membership and it has never fully engaged the methods of trail development within its own organization, let alone humanizing county or community involvement.

CKC doesn?t fulfill obligations to control weeds nor does it work toward physically maintaining the corridor in any manner because it lacks the money to do so and it can?t seem to agree on ways to accomplish its obligations to the trail.

Although CKC has a pro-bono attorney, the organization lacks the funds, support and commitment to litigate at the local or state level and it fails to connect with powerful national trails organizations that assist with trail litigation.

If CKC had taken advantage of the broader national network at the right time, the strength of these trail organizations would have swiftly helped end the issue in favor of trail development long ago. This is evidenced by the vast networks of trails that exist in other parts of the country where the same federal provisions for railbanking apply through the strong arms of the organizations that refute the opposition and win every time based on the provision of the federal law.

In other words, extensive trail networks are being built under the same federal provisions all across the country undaunted by these small opposition groups.

Opposition groups claiming reversionary rights have been active in nearly every place trails now exist.

In some cases those who oppose development by destroying the trails become the involuntary trail builders via courts that hold the opposition accountable for the destruction, using the opposition?s numbers to determine the extent of the liability.

Imagine what that would mean in Marion County by now.

CAMM (Citizens Association of Marion and McPherson Counties) is yet another loose organization of trail opponents found sprinkled across the country whose arguments for reversionary rights is an excuse for their greed and thuggery.

There?s no doubt the railroad had reversionary agreements with many of the original landowners. But now, generations later, and after years of the railroad presence, to claim rights of reversion, or the potential of trashing or trespassing on private property, is little more than a smoke screen for the self-indulgence of a few.

At the foundation, such greed was not in the character of those who sought to settle this land.

Beyond greed, CAMM represents a dangerous element of vigilantism, whose gun-toting membership has threatened the lives of trail developers on several occasions. CAMM is further emboldened to posture threats and destroy the trail because law enforcement refuses to enforce the rule of law.

In fact, Marion County law enforcement doesn?t know what the law is regarding trails as evidenced by the (Marion County) Commission?s charge to Susan Robson, county attorney, to find out the disposition of trail rights.

Meanwhile, the sheriff has chosen to stand with the farmers regardless of any implications of a federal provision for trails. The sheriff openly and vehemently supports CAMM instead of seeking to understand the law and execute the role of office as a responsible, unbiased protector of the law in trail issues that would, at the very least, stop the unwarranted destruction of the trail.

On the community scene, Marion appears to favor an in-town trail without contention and the connectivity of extending the trails along the flood control dike seems plausible.

In Hillsboro, the mayor recently said she likes the idea of a little park trail, this despite the fact that she refuted the idea several years ago when a group of citizens headed by the then-popular school superintendent, approached the city with the same concept for a linear in-town trail development.

At the time, the mayor cited threats from CAMM members to take their business elsewhere if such a park development ensued.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the railbanked trail, Linds?borg has already developed an in-town trail and the residents rave about it.

Among the groups involved, there?s plenty of anger, frustration and confusion to go around, but perhaps nothing is more disturbing than the lack of leadership, organization and clarity we should have received from the Marion County Commission on the matter of trails by now.

The irresponsibility of the commission in trail matters revivals the acts of a comedic trio from a bygone monochromatic television era. It characterizes the commission?s flippancy in addressing developmental issues of any kind that contribute to growth instead of continued decline, clarity instead of more frustration and hope instead of despair in Marion County. One commissioner openly admitted he didn?t understand trail issues yet he proceeded to endorse CAMM?s position.

Another commissioner suggested a county referendum to replace the provision enacted by federal law. How presumptuous.

The commission hired an economic development specialist to pursue development opportunities, yet they don?t consider her findings on trail matters, and then allow her to be derided for considering research that suggests trails have a positive economic impact.

While endorsing tourism, the commission has steadfastly ignored the benefits in preserving the rail corridor as a resource for trail development that connects the communities with Marion Lake and Marion Reservoir, Marion County?s two largest attractions.

The commission nor the farmers refute every benefit for retaining the trail as a developmental resource, yet one of the greatest historical events of all time occurs in Marion County where the Chisholm Trail meets the Santa Fe Trail. People would pay big money just to stand, gaze and consider it. Where better could it be witnessed than on the rail corridor?

Few trails are built only for the recreational purposes. Commerce exists where trails exist. Communities the size of Lehigh have experienced a rebirth because of trails.

The implication for the farmers and the communities is commerce from trail activities just as it is in the other places trails exist and few places with trails have as much to offer in such a short distance

Marion Lake, City of Marion, Marion Reservoir, Canada, Hillsboro, Lehigh, the confluence of Chisholm Trail and Santa Fe Trail, U.S. Highway 56. What other single project could impact so many places and so many points of interests with so much potential for Marion County?

Marion and McPherson counties will not have trails if people do not want them. And, if they do, they?ll have to stand up and be counted against the threats of CAMM and the disregard for law by Marion County law enforcement. Trail supporters also need a better organization than the present CKC to represent them.

There is much more to trails than CAMM, CKC, Marion County law enforcement or the Hillsboro mayor have represented. The least we ask of the Marion County Commission is to respond from a basis of knowledge and give fair representation when considering what to endorse for the betterment of Marion County.

Trail issues in Marion County will not go away just because the county commission doesn?t want to address them. The commission should be encouraged to learn the facts about trails as an economic resource before taking sides.

Whatever the outcome of trails in Kansas, the commission has once again made Marion County the biggest loser.

Trails in Kansas will likely be resolved in court, and what happens in Marion County is a battleground for what happens statewide. We hope it can be resolved before push comes to shove.

Stan Thiessen


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