Thursday June 27, 2013

Editor of the Reformer:

Thank you for the balanced coverage of the controversy about the West River Trail corridor from just past the Marina Restaurant out to the quarry in West Dummerston ("Trespassing?" June 19).

To clarify some of the information in the article, here’s a quick snapshot of the history of this particular stretch of land:

It was acquired in 1887 for fee to build the 36-mile railroad from Brattleboro to South Londonderry. In 1936 the railroad declared bankruptcy and all of its assets were transferred to the State of Vermont. The section of railroad from the Presby-Leland Quarry in West Dummerston into Brattleboro, however, was transferred to the Vermont White Quarry Company, which was then actively working the quarry.

In the 1938 hurricane, the railroad bridge at the mouth of the West River was destroyed, and the quarry company ceased operation. Shortly thereafter, the land was sold to a salvage company to extract the rails and other steel for the war effort. Since then, the state acquired a small section of that land to build the I-91 bridge over the West River, and then in October 2011 Friends of the West River Trail purchased the railroad bed from the salvage company, with Jason Cooper’s company serving as an intermediary in the transaction.

We had a title search done, and our ownership of this strip of land has been assured by several attorneys. An examination of the deeds of abutting properties along the trail shows clear reference to the railroad, with most of those properties’ boundaries defined by the railroad corridor. The lawyers and surveyors we have consulted with on the trail concur with our position.

FWRT has reached out to communicate with adjoining property owners since we first acquired this land, and the transfer deeds were long ago filed with the towns of Brattleboro and Dummerston. We want to be good neighbors in the community and to understand our neighbors’ concerns. Historically, rail-trails like this experience reduced crime and dumping while increasing the value and marketability of nearby properties.

Some of the abutters in West Dummerston have expressed concern for their privacy because our land passes close to their homes, so last year we began discussions with the Nature Conservancy about re-routing the trail onto their land further away from these houses. This discussion is continuing and we hope to have a solution that will work for everyone.

The recent controversy arose when we sought to clarify the trail ownership on the tax maps in the two towns. We have been working to clear this up and anticipate resolution soon. We further complicated the situation when we erected a kiosk at the Rice Farm Road access to the trail without securing the necessary sign permit; that kiosk has been removed, pending proper permitting.

The West River Trail is an open, free pathway for all to enjoy. It has received no funding from the towns of Brattleboro or Dummerston, yet it provides residents with a wonderful, recreational resource. If you appreciate this community asset, let your public officials know. If you would like to help work on the trail or to donate please visit our website (www.westrivertrail.org). If you haven’t been out on the trail, please do so. Enjoy this beautiful feature of our community.

Jason Cooper, Lester Humphreys and Alex Wilson,

For Friends of the West River Trail, June 24 Editor of the Reformer:

At the last meeting of the Dummerston Selectboard the other members of the board joined me in expressing our support for the West River Trail. As the article in the Reformer stated ("Trespassing?" June 19), there are questions about the ownership of the trail between its current terminus on Rice Farm Road and the Marina, and its future route north of Rice Farm Road.

It does not make sense that a large tract of land that has not been on the grand lists of Brattleboro or Dummerston for more than 70 years could be purchased for a nominal amount. Since the existing trail has been used for more than 15 years, apparently without the permission of the landowners, the public may have acquired a prescriptive easement to use the existing trail corridor. None of those landowners have objected to the current trail, so its ownership may never be litigated. The Friends of the West River Trail may decide that a prescriptive easement makes more sense than outright ownership, with the resulting property taxes. Non-profit entities’ tax-exempt status does not confer exemption from paying property taxes. Our hard working listers should not be criticized by those writing letters to the editor for doing their jobs.

Recreation trails have enhanced Stowe and Springfield, and Northampton, Mass., and other communities across our country. Studies have shown that they are usually not safety concerns for the adjacent landowners, and can actually enhance property values. It makes sense to locate the trail north of Rice Farm Road along larger tracts and conserved properties. We are confident that FOWRT will make every effort to do so.

Joe Cook,

Dummerston, June 24

Editor of the Reformer:

The West River trail is a great community resource; my wife, Diana Wahle, and I walk it often. Not only is it a place for exercise available to all levels of ability, it is an unusually fine preserve of the natural setting of southern Vermont. The geology is quite spectacular, with unparalleled exposures of the contact of the Black Mountain granite with the surrounding rocks, showing how the great heat of the liquid mass of magma baked those rocks. This is not exposed so well anywhere else around Black Mountain. This would be plenty for me, since I am a geologist, but it is by no means the only thing of value on the trail. The rocks provide a habitat for a profusion of spring wildflowers almost unmatched in this part of Vermont. The trail is also a walk through history, since it is the bed of the infamous West River Railroad, also known as "36 miles of trouble." As notorious as it was, the cuts in the rock show that it was, even so, a daunting enterprise.

We are appalled that some officials in our town of Dummerston should be so hostile to the extension of the West River trail. Especially, the threat of the Listers, as reported in the Reformer ("Trespassing?" June 19), of high taxes as punishment for some perceived transgression, is unconscionable. We are heartened to hear that there is support on the Selectboard for the trail.

This community resource should be welcomed -- it should be preserved and kept available for teaching, study and recreation.

John S. Warren,

Dummerston, June 26