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CSX about-face impedes trail proposal

KENTON, Ohio - A speed bump has emerged on the path toward a proposed 52-mile multipurpose public trail that would connect Marion, Kenton, and the village of Harrod in Allen County.

The figurative barricade along the Phoebe Snow Trail appears to be a decision by CSX Transportation to terminate its $1 a year lease and foreclose a plan to eventually sell the land, trail organizers said.

“Three years ago we entered into an agreement with CSX for 27 miles of Hardin County with the idea they would sell it to us,” said Bob Hubbell, Hardin County commissioner.

In May, CSX informed Hardin County it was canceling the lease. “They didn't give us a reason,” Mr. Hubbell said.

CSX could not be reached for comment.

About half of the trail would extend through Hardin County, passing through the county seat, Kenton.

The railroad, which had not been used for 25 years, belonged to the former Erie-Lackawanna Railroad, which ran between New York and Chicago.

The rails and ties have been removed, as have the bridges. Dump sites for old railroad batteries apparently remain, leaving behind potential hazardous waste sites, Mr. Hubbell said.

“We wanted the railroad to clean them up. We've called [railroad headquarters] Florida with very little success,” he said.

Adjacent landowners are not enthusiastic about the project, proposed by the Allen, Hardin, Marion County Rails-to-Trails Committee.

“I would say that probably 90 percent of the owners along the railroad were against it,” Mr. Hubbell said.

The commissioner said Hardin County has no plans to obtain the property through eminent domain, leaving the project at a standstill. Trail sponsors include Marion, Hardin, and Allen counties, with Hardin County taking the lead.

“It's a great idea, but I'm not sure we have the financial wherewithal to handle it,” Mr. Hubbell said.

The Phoebe Snow Trail is named after an advertising icon used by the Erie Lackawanna Railroad for its passenger train that ran along the line.

Dr. Jack Telfer, director of the Marion County Park District and a coordinator of the project, said trail organizers are not giving up.

One of the first goals is to ensure that a $427,500 grant received in 1997 from a federal highway enhancement fund, remains accessible. The grant would pay 80 percent of the purchase price, with local agencies making up the difference, he said.

Regardless of the previous decision, trail organizers hope to persuade the railroad to sell the property, although barring other recourses, legal action remains an option, Dr. Telfer contends.

Opposition, which Dr. Telfer said comes from a vocal but minor group of landowners, would vanish “if we could get those people to go up and take a look at one.”

A consultant is working with the Phoebe Snow Trail planners to secure state support and work on keeping the grant that will be used to buy the land.

The trail, which would be available for bicyclists, hikers, and skaters, would be part of network of former railroads that have been converted into 11,000 trails nationwide, according to the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy. In Ohio, 45 trails are open, extending 600 miles.

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