Rails to trails effort concerns some residents

Published 3:23 pm Thursday, February 17, 2011

Trail committee said venture moving forward despite earlier reports
Polk County commissioners recently apologized to seven Tryon Township residents who said rails to trails coordinators have not thought about what the venture may do to nearby property owners.
The Saluda Grade Trail committee was recently established to ask railroad owner Norfolk Southern permission to turn the railroad bed between Landrum and Saluda into trails for walkers, bikers and equestrians.
“My friends and family are all upset about this,” Bruce Wilson told commissioners. “Somebody is going to come and seize my land and put horses all through my property? My line goes to the center of the railroad track. “
The Polk County Board of Commissioners heard Monday, Feb. 7 from seven residents who said they are against the proposal.
Gary Walker said the land has been in his grandfather’s name since the late 1800s and property owners should have been notified before the county approved a resolution to support the project.
“I want that property and the whole side of country club mountain to stay what it is,” Walker said. “I don’t want to open it up to a tourist attraction.”
John Blanton said he was speaking on behalf of his uncle, Robert E. Edney, who owns two tracts of land, one that is 100 acres and borders the railroad for about ½ mile. Blanton said people are already getting on the railroad track, with trespassers digging up wildflowers, causing litter problems and unwanted ATV traffic on the railroad now.
“I can see someone riding a bike or horse and getting hurt,” Blanton said. “All of you will agree we are in a sue-crazy world. Are the landowners going to be responsible for this? You can bet it won’t be the railroad. That leaves it to the county.”
Blanton also said he’s seen drug activity in the area and a public system makes it easier for someone to slip in and break into homes.
“I think the sheriff is going to need a bigger budget,” said Blanton.
Others mentioned already existing problems with trespassers and four-wheeler activity on the tracks.
Commissioner Renée McDermtt thanked the residents for telling them how they feel, and other commissioners apologized, saying they didn’t realize residents owned some of the line.
Commissioner Tom Pack apologized and said, “I didn’t do my homework.”
Commissioner Cindy Walker said she lives in the valley and has to agree that she didn’t think about the property owner issue.
Commissioner Ted Owens said the issue needs to be addressed and suggested putting it on the county’s next agenda.
“My apologies to each one of you,” said Owens.
Andy Millard, a member of the Rails to Trails committee, said volunteers currently hoping for the project to become reality also realize they’ve been remiss in not approaching property owners before various governing bodies.
He said a handful of property owners he’s spoken with are weary of invasions of privacy by those using the potential track. He said the homeowners already see people walking along the tracks, consuming alcohol and essentially treating the area with disrespect. He said this of course raises a red flag when anyone discusses allowing public access.
“We know that not everybody is excited about it and we want to engage those people who may have an issue with it. We want to respect those views and not go bulling through and push something on people that they may not want,” Millard said. “There are so many issues involved and so many stake holders that we really need to do it right.”
Millard said despite a recent letter to the editor published in the Bulletin, which said Norfolk-Southern would never turn over a portion of the railway, volunteers continue to move forward with efforts.
Millard said he and others expect to first receive a blanket negative response from Norfolk-Southern and admitted that the company in the past told area officials of possible plans to make use of the railroad in the future.
“That is not a discouraging development at all for us – that was always to be expected,” Millard said. “The question we need to determine is whether or not that is going to be the final answer. They always say that – it’s their stock answer.”
Millard said the next step is to engage those property owners and then eventually conduct a feasibility study.