LEE: Greenway fight went south from the start

Let's establish a couple things here: I think a walking and bike trail next to a river is a great idea. But it has to
Don Lee
May 24, 2010

 

Let's establish a couple things here:

I think a walking and bike trail next to a river is a great idea.

But it has to get along with the neighbors. You don't get along with the neighbors by assuming a piece of property is yours to take.

And because there was once a little concrete-block house that got in the way of the city of Toledo's plans for a landfill, don't ask me how many letters are in "eminent domain." I stop counting at four.

I've never wanted to set foot on the Huron River Greenway and I probably never will. I've never cared for the way the Rails to Trails Conservancy, and later Erie MetroParks, went about trying to establish it.

The most recent version of this paper's editorial position on the Greenway, now that the Ohio Supreme Court has ruled the park district has to pay some property owners for land the district assumed it could take by virtue of it being an abandoned railroad right-of-way, is that a couple sit-down discussions might have prevented the whole dispute.

It's possible; there is at least one other trail built on an abandoned railroad right-of-way in the southern part of the state where the neighbors at first protested, but came to see how a developed recreational trail nearby actually increased the value of their property and their enjoyment of it.

And MetroParks has gotten a few things right. The Castalia Quarry Reserve trail, for one thing, is well worth the hour or so it takes to hike the rim of the Quarry -- although you want to take more time, if only for the view from the observation platform.

And there's one house whose backyard backs up onto the Quarry trail -- well, if that house ever goes on the market, I'll be practicing my most sincere smile for the mortgage loan people.

But I'm not so sure the sit-down could have ever happened in Huron Township.

Why? Because, as a reporter covering the initial proposal more years ago than I care to count, I saw the exchange that made me think at the time, "My grandkids will be covering this story."

Before MetroParks ever entered into it, the Rails to Trails Conservancy -- a national organization devoted to turning old rail routes into recreational trails -- had gone ahead and started the ball rolling on the abandoned right-of-way of the old Wheeling and Lake Erie Railroad (not the present-day W≤ the original W&LE has long since disappeared into a series of mergers and acquisitions).

But the neighbors, some of whom thought (correctly, it turns out) the ownership of the right-of-way reverted to them if the railroad abandoned the line, were feeling more than a little left out of the loop.

And in the middle of a meeting in the Huron Library basement that had degenerated into shouts and arm waving, a local Conservancy member went toe to toe with one of her River Road neighbors -- with a finger in the face for emphasis, always good PR -- and sneered, "This trail is coming and you can't do a thing about it."

And that pretty much set the tone that continues to this day.

The Conservancy adopted an insufferably smug attitude which, once it discovered the World Wide Web, fairly oozed out of its site. The MetroParks, once it picked up the trail banner, pursued the cause with all the ardor of a capital-C Crusade.

The property owners -- who got together and hoisted the banner of Citizens for the Protection of Property Rights and began to watch with gimlet eye all things MetroParks -- went over the top a few times, too, but they saw themselves as little guys fighting the Power.

And if MetroParks ever had a copy of "How to Win Friends and Influence People," it's using it to prop up a wobbly table somewhere. Taking chain saws to the neighbors' decks and staircases didn't help you one bit in the PR department.

And preparing an eminent domain case when your position was that the property is already yours? Tell me how that makes sense.

"It's legal," Fred Deering assured me, back in the day when he still thought a two-hour harangue about how the "other side" "got to me" might sway me.

"Lots of things are legal, Fred," I replied.

Well, MetroParks has a new director, and the board of commissioners isn't quite the same as it was. So maybe there's a chance to make nice with the property owners and reopen the trail in a form that keeps everyone happy.

I don't mind saying I, personally, hope it happens.

I just, personally, doubt it will.

The blood's been too bad, for too long.

And if there's anything folks around here know how to maintain for a long, long time, it's a grudge.