Greenway will open, MetroParks vows

MILAN The Huron River Greenway is still off-limits, despite efforts to reopen it by summer.
Tom Jackson
May 24, 2010

MILAN

The Huron River Greenway is still off-limits, despite efforts to reopen it by summer.

Erie MetroParks officials say they remain committed to opening part of the 6.7-mile trail this summer and eventually reopening all of it.

Development of the Huron River Greenway -- a trail that follows the path of an old railroad line-- has pitted Erie MetroParks officials against property owners along the trail who insist the parks took their property without compensation.

The landowners won a dramatic legal victory last year when the Ohio Supreme Court ordered parks officials to pay the landowners for the seized property.

Erie MetroParks responded by closing the Huron River Greenway to the public. Parks officials have been working with lawyers and appraisers to determine how much money to offer the landowners who sued the park system while trying to work out more informal deals with other landowners along the trail.

Stephen Dice, director-secretary of the parks district, said although parks officials put up barricades and posted "closed" signs, people are still using the trail.

In one recent incident, parks officials were called and told a tree had fallen and was blocking the path. By the time parks staff could get to the tree a couple days later, they found someone had cut it up so people could walk on the trail.

"Barricades have been torn down," Dice said. "Signs have been torn down saying the trail is closed."

While the parks have kept the trail closed, parks officials don't feel comfortable driving people off the trail and enforcing possible trespass violations, Dice said.

"That's really not our responsibility," he said.

Dice had promised to try to reopen at least one stretch of the trail by Friday, when summer begins. Dealing with land ownership issues with many property owners has turned into a longer process than he expected.

The stretch closest to being reopened is about 1.29 miles long and served by a parking lot next to a water tower on River Road.

Dice said he hopes to report by the August parks commission meeting how much money Erie MetroParks will offer to the plaintiffs who brought the lawsuit against the parks.

The property owners who filed the lawsuit say they are still waiting to find out how much money Erie MetroParks officials will offer them.

"We haven't heard a thing," said Edwin "Mick" Coles, one of the plaintiffs. "They have to make us an offer. Once they do ... that gets the ball rolling. Until they do that, you just wait."

Once Erie MetroParks makes an offer, the landowners who brought the lawsuit will have their own appraisal done to see if the park officials' offer was reasonable, Coles said.

If the offer does not seem fair, "we go to court, and it's a jury trial," he said.

Separately, the plaintiffs also are seeking damages for the injuries they believe they received from the park system's actions, such as slander of title, Coles said.

Coles said he believes it is indeed possible for Erie MetroParks to get the Huron River Greenway open if landowners are treated fairly.

"If they're reasonable, I think that can happen," he said. "I guess it's about time they start paying up and getting it open. I don't have a problem with that."

Erie MetroParks essentially has come under new management during the past couple of years. The three-member parks board has two relatively new members, Kurt Landefeld and Micah Vawters, and a new director, Dice, who started work only a few months ago. The new crew has tried to take a more conciliatory public stance toward unhappy landowners.

Friends of Erie MetroParks, the park system's volunteer and support group, has tried to lay low and let the process work, said Joyce Deering, president of the group.

"We really are just being very quiet," she said. "When we know that we can be helpful, we will be right there immediately."