River trail concerns prompted at commissioners meeting

By Emma Rausch

The Wabash County Board of Commissioners listened to a Lagro landowner’s concerns Tuesday, Jan. 17, regarding a possible alternative route for the Wabash River Trail (WRT) bike path.

Landowner Lena Gray brought forward complaints about the trail’s new developments.

Gray informed the commissioners that the trail has staked a path through her and her neighbors’ front yards and along the side of her property.

“We have been notified that a route will be going this way,” Gray explained. “(The trail) would be crossing 11 drives, seven mailboxes … and a power substation.”

In May 2016, Wabash River Trail Inc. Board Chair Amy Ford announced the plans for the 33-mile, multi-use river walk that would connect Huntington, Wabash and Peru.

Phase I Sub-Phase I will pave a path through Lagro from the east side of Kerr Lock to the end of Basin Street and turn right to connect with East Old U.S. 24. The path from Basin Street to East Old U.S. 24 is paved, but there is no confirmation on if the section is complete.

Phase I will eventually connect Lagro to Wabash, according to Ford’s announcement.

In August, Gray and her siblings Jess and Bernice Gressley told The Paper of Wabash County they were denying the trail access to develop on their riverfront property.

Now, however, a new, alternative route would pass through her front yard, she said.

“(The trail’s board) approached my family and wanted to cross our property down by the river and we refused, so (they’ve) come up a different route that comes across my property where I live,” Gray said while indicating to a map of the proposed route.

The staked route traveled from the trail’s entrance on East Old U.S. 24 westward to Gray’s property where it turned right after her property line to head back toward the riverfront.

After the meeting on Tuesday, Gray told The Paper she found stakes in her yard for the new route on Dec. 5.

At the Commissioners’ meeting, Gray continued that she was worried that the proposed trail turned and traveled parallel to her driveway in her neighbor’s field, wrapping around her property. She said she was also worried it would impede on her family’s privacy and pose problems for their way of life.

“(The trail board) doesn’t want motorized vehicles on the trail, but … we have a farm that (the route) crosses and we have hayfields up the hill that we have to take care of,” she said. “Those are our concerns.”

Gray asked the commissioners if it is true that landowners own their property to the middle of the road.

“Well, the county has right of way,” Commissioner Chair Scott Givens said.

Gray would have to look at the county’s survey for an answer, added Commissioner Brian Haupert.

County attorney Steve Downs asked if Gray had addressed her concerns with the WRT board to which she affirmed she did.

“Well obviously (the trail board) can’t go across your property without your permission, so (it) must be staking it on private property where (it) has permission,” Downs said. “So you are just simply saying it’s too close and it’s going to interfere with you?”

“Yes. I think that it’s invading our privacy,” Gray said.

“Commissioners don’t have any jurisdiction over this bike trail if it’s going over private land,” Downs said. “So there’s not much that they can do.”

WRT Board member Mark Frantz affirmed that no alternative path has yet been confirmed.

“The stakes, as Mrs. Gray said, it’s one of a few alternate routes,” Frantz told the Commissioners. “I’m not sure who actually staked, but we’re not set in stone to cross their property, to go over their driveways or mailboxes or anything.

“Obviously, we haven’t come to the Commissioners for permission to do anything yet. We’re still looking at options. So I think a sit down with them not over the phone would be the most appropriate thing at this time and I think that’s what we’re going to try to do. And if we have anything we need the Commissioners to do, we’ll certainly let you know and come before you.”

Plans for the walk have also raised concerns, especially from those in the western part of Wabash County who have said they don’t want the trail crossing their farmland.

Posted on 2017 Jan 24