Erie MetroParks has closed the Huron River Greenway until it can sort out legal issues resulting from last week's Ohio Supreme Court decision.
Last week, the court ruled 6-0 that the park system had taken private property for the trail without compensating landowners. It further ordered the park system to begin legal proceedings to compensate the landowners.
Gary Horn, interim director-secretary for the park system, said he regrets having to close public access to the Huron River Greenway, but said he doesn't want visitors to the park accused of trespassing.
"The public really, at least for now, is losing a great asset they've been able to use for the last 10 years or so," Horn said. "That's regrettable."
Horn said he closed the trail after discussing the ruling with Tom Dusza, an attorney who is chairman of the parks board.
"Maybe we are being a little overcautious, but we believe that is the appropriate thing for Erie MetroParks to do," Horn said.
The Greenway runs several miles north from Milan, following the path of an old rail line. Owners of property on either side of the trail claimed their deeds gave them control of the property after the railroad abandoned its right of way.
The parks board will meet at 5:30 p.m. today, but it won't have the Greenway litigation on the agenda.
Instead, the board is expected to go into executive session to discuss the four finalists for the job of MetroParks director.
Horn said the board will likely announce its decision today.
The park board's next meeting is Dec. 12, but Horn said he hopes the parks' attorneys will be able to give him information before then on what must be done next with the Greenway.
Horn said the lawyers have told him the land that's at issue will have to be appraised. In cases where both parties can agree on the value of the land, there will be settlements. Otherwise, the parks system and the landowners will go to trial to resolve the dispute.
Horn said he doesn't know yet how much land is involved, how much money the land payments are likely to cost or how the parks system will find the money to make the payments.
When the parks board meets today to pick a director, it will be choosing among four finalists.
They are Stephen Dice of Hinckley, who recently resigned as director of parks and conservation for Five Rivers MetroParks in Dayton; Chris Cooperrider of Chardon, parks superintendent for the city of Mentor; Michael Rorar of Akron, park administrator for the Bath Township Park System, and Douglas Nist of Massillon, former parks superintendent for Massillon.
Horn said he's trying to get as much done as possible in resolving the legal situation with the Huron River Greenway, but said work will continue when he turns over the reins in a few weeks to the new parks director.
"The new director is going to get dumped right into the middle of this," he said.