Court Rules in Favor of West River Trail

West River Trail, Rice Farm Road AccessFrom the Brattleboro Reformer, Friday, November 10, 2017.,524346

The public has rights, under a “prescriptive easement,” to use a portion of the West River Trail in Dummerston, according to a ruling issued on Wed., Nov. 9 by Judge John W. Valente of the Windham County Superior Court.

The ruling also established that the non-profit group Friends of the West River Trail owns title to a 2-acre disputed parcel of land including the trail itself, located at the Rice Farm Road end of the trail in Dummerston.

At that location, Melvin L. Mayo, the owner of several parcels of land along Rice Farm Road, had erected barriers intended to prevent use of the trail. In a judgment issued as part of his decision, Valente ordered that Mayo is “enjoined from interfering with the public’s use of the railbed [the trail] for recreational purposes.”

Further, he ruled that “members of the public may remove all fencing, debris, barriers, or signs discouraging use of the railbed in a fashion consistent with the terms of the easement.”

A lawsuit had been brought by the Friends organization against Mayo, after efforts to resolve Mayo’s land claims out of court were unsuccessful.

The prescriptive easement, as described by Valente in his ruling, provides that “all members of the public may use the railbed that runs through Mr. Mayo’s southerly parcel for non-motorized recreation. This includes, but is not limited to, running, cycling, walking, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing.” The easement is based on trial testimony making clear the continuous use of the trail by the public over many decades.

Valente added that “the public may make reasonably necessary repairs to continue this use, such as clearing brush, mowing and repairing flooding or culverts that impede recreational use of the trail.”

The trail is located on the railbed of the former 36-mile West River Railroad, which operated from Brattleboro to Londonderry from 1880 to 1936. After the railroad ceased operations, the iron rails were sold for scrap, and much of the route became a trail, used informally for decades for recreational purposes.

Friends of the West River Trail was founded in 1992 to repair and restore the trail, beginning with the 16-mile upper section from Londonderry to Townshend. In 2012, the group began repairing and improving the 3.5-mile lower section from Brattleboro to Dummerston. It acquired several adjoining parcels, including the land at the Rice Farm Trailhead involved in the dispute, and the 21-acre Riverstone Preserve located in Brattleboro.

Lester Humphreys, chair of the steering committee for the lower section of the trail, said, “This removes any doubts the public may have had about using the full length of the lower section of the trail, from the trailhead near the Marina Restaurant all the way to Rice Farm Road. We have enjoyed good relations with many of the landowners along the trail, and as stewards of the trail, we look forward to working with all of them in the future.”

Humphreys also pointed to the newly-restored trail section below the new I-91 bridge. “All the bridge work is done now, and that section has been beautifully restored by Bazin Brothers, as contractor for PCL, the bridge builders,” he said.

Rice Farm Road Trailhead Access

West River Trail Rice Farm Road TrailheadThere will be a court hearing on the subject in the Newfane Court House 9 am on August 21st, 2017.

As many of you have seen, a plastic fence has been put up at the Rice Farm Road trailhead. About three years ago, Mr. Melvin Mayo purchased the lot and buildings above the trailhead on the West River Trail. As confirmed by the courts, he purchased only 2 acres down to the former West River Railroad. However Mr. Mayo is claiming ownership down to the river, based on the Dummerston tax map, which is incorrect.

People have been using this beautiful trail along the West River since at least the 1930s when the railroad tracks were taken up. So, the fence and the attempt to block the public from using the trail negatively affects many people in our community. There will be a court hearing on the subject in the Newfane Court House 9 am on August 21st, 2017. Please feel free to come to the public hearing and to add your stories about the trail in the comments section below.

Posted on behalf of Lester Humphreys, Friends of the West River Trail.

*11/12/2017 Court Rules in Favor of West River Trail,524346

West River Trail Workday Report


WRT trail workday June 2017Huge thanks to the 5 volunteers who showed up to help repair the West River Trail.
Below is Jason Cooper’s report from the Trail Work Day.

We got an incredible amount done today!
Repaired erosion on the steeps of the I-91 bridge bypass.
Trimmed back brush and grass on the bypass.
Cleaned out and repaired many culverts from I-91 (mile 2) to just before mile 3.8.
Removed many downed trees.
Filled many holes in the trail.

The biggest surprise was the incredible washout on the Fox Farm Road access. It is as bad as it was after Hurricane Irene. This will take some structural redesign. There is also still some work to do between mile 3.8 and the foot bridge at mile 4.1, and a ditch at mile 2.8. Beyond the foot bridge there are several erosion cuts in the trail bed that will need fill trucked in.
WRT trail workday June 2017 - 2
Photos are on the Fox Farm Road trail access. Photos by Jason Cooper. The trail really needs your help! If you use the trail regularly, please consider lending a hand on the next workday or making a contribution to help maintain the trail. Email us at with any questions.


New Lower Section Map


We’ve published a brand-new map of the Lower Section of the West River Trail, with lots of trail information on the back. It folds down to pocket size for convenient use on the trail. Pick up your copy at the Marina Restaurant, Brattleboro Chamber of Commerce, River Garden, Brattleboro Bike Shop, Burrows Specialized Sports, West Hill Shop, Guilford Country Store, Route 91 Welcome Center, local hotels, and other locations. Many thanks to C&S Wholesale Grocers Print Shop for donating the printing of the map and to Jeff Nugent, Senior Planner, Mapping & GIS, Windham Regional Commission, for creating the map.

View and download the map on the WRT Lower Section Map Page.


The West River Trail in November

Beautiful in all seasons! With the leaves gone from the trees, the trail in November is light and bright, open to the sky and the sunshine, with the river running alongside more visible.

Do you use the West River Trail? Know someone who does? If so, you might be interested in attending the upcoming Dummerston Development Review Board public hearing on Tues Nov 17th, 2015 at 7 pm at the Dummerston town offices at 1523 Middle Road, Dummerston Center, Vermont, when they will consider the following application:

A review of app #3418 by the Friends of the West River Trail for site plan review, conditional use approval and waiver to construct a kiosk and sign at the trail head on Rice Farm Road, Dummerston, a Rural district Riparian area and Special Flood Hazard Area. The hearing is open to the public. A public hearing notice is posted at the Rice Farm Road trailhead. For more information, contact Charlotte Neer Annis, Zoning Administrator, Town of Dummerston.


Concerns Stall West River Trail Work in Dummerston

Concerns Stall West River Trail Work in Dummerston

West River Trail, Lower Section, photo by Elin Waagen

This is a reprint of an article that originally appeared in the Brattleboro Reformer on 8/27/2014.  Mike Faher can be reached at or 802-254-2311, ext. 275. 

DUMMERSTON — West River Trail advocates are hoping to someday provide a relatively smooth ride for bicyclists along an old rail bed stretching from Brattleboro to Londonderry.

But they’ve run into continuing friction in Dummerston, where there are questions about property titles, taxes, permitting and the impacts of a trail. Those tensions came up again at a recent meeting, leading a trail advocate to pledge cooperation with landowners.

“We want to be a good neighbor,” said Jason Cooper, a member of the Friends of the West River Trail Steering Committee. “This is an incredible asset to the community.”

But for now, the project has stalled: Trail expansion requires a review of the group’s application by Dummerston Development Review Board, and officials say that cannot happen until several affected homeowners sign off.

“Since I don’t have signatures or an agreement with the taxpayers, I don’t consider (the application) complete yet, so it’s still sitting on a table,” Zoning Administrator Charlotte Annis said. “And that’s where the process is.”

The popular hiking and biking path’s southern starting point is near the marina in Brattleboro. Following the former West River Railroad route, the trail extends north into Dummerston, where there is an access point on Rice Farm Road.

“Our proposal is basically to start where the trail is ending now — where it comes out to Rice Farm Road — and to continue the trail along the original railroad bed up to the Nature Conservancy parking lot,” Cooper told residents and Dummerston officials.

He added that, “just north of where the trail ends now, there is a brook that crosses where there used to be a railroad bridge. We want to restore a footbridge there.”

There also would be plans to create a safe crossing at a point where Rice Farm Road crossed the railroad, Cooper said.

“Our biggest concern there is making sure there is adequate signage to protect both the people on the trail, so that they know they’re coming to an intersection, and for the people on the road so that they know they’re coming to a trail,” he said.

But there are concerns among property owners including Sigrid Pickering, who said the trail would cross her driveway.

She inquired about the possibility of fencing and buffers between trail users and her land. Without such measures, “that’s just an invitation to vandalism and theft, and that’s not really going to work for me,” Pickering said.

She also draws a sharp distinction between the purposes of the old railroad right of way and the plan now being advanced by Friends of the West River Trail.

“If it was a railroad, there would be a schedule. It wouldn’t be a 24/7 recreation thing with people dispersed all over the place,” Pickering told Cooper. “It would be a train going through at certain times of the day. It’s a very different use that you’re proposing than the right of way that was granted by the previous owner.”

Pickering wrote a lengthy, detailed letter to the Friends group and to the town. Another concern is the state of Rice Farm Road itself: In recent years, she said, “traffic has increased exponentially there, both in volume and speed.”

“Putting a (trail) crossing sign up in the middle of this stretch of road without addressing the speeding traffic exacerbates an increasingly serious safety issue,” Pickering wrote.

Cooper said the trail group could do nothing about the speed or frequency of traffic on a town road. But he maintains that developing the trail will improve safety in that area.

“Currently, the people who come up the trail come out onto the road, and they’re traveling along Rice Farm Road and up Quarry Road,” Cooper said. “So by our being able to get the trail onto the old railroad bed, our hope is that we would be making it much safer by having a separation of the (trail users) from the car traffic.”

Cooper promised to talk with Pickering about signs, fencing and possibly buffers “to work that out in a way that meets everybody’s needs to keep it as safe as possible.”

But there are thornier issues for trail backers in Dummerston, including the question of who actually owns the railroad right of way.

“If the trail goes through our property, are we supposed to pay taxes on this part of the property, or receive a tax break (since) part of our property would be for public use by a nonprofit entity?” asked landowners Jenna and Hakan Shearer Demir in a letter to the town.

That letter is only the most-recent version of that argument. Last June, Dummerston officials raised the issue of ownership after an attorney representing the town claimed the railroad was abandoned in the 1930s and subsequently has “reverted to the prior owner(s), their heirs, successors and assigns.”

Trail advocates last year countered by saying the rail bed was not abandoned. Rather, they claim a clear line of transactions: The property was transferred from the rail company to the state, from the state to a quarry operator and then to a salvage company from which Cooper’s company acquired it before signing the parcel over to Friends of the West River Trail.

At the recent meeting in Dummerston, Cooper reiterated his stance that, “at this point in time, the title to this property is in our name.”

That assertion, however, leads to the question of whether Friends of the West River Trail can or should be taxed by the town. Dummerston Selectboard member Joe Cook, while an avid cyclist and a trail supporter, made a “friendly suggestion” to Friends of the West River Trail.

“I think it’s not in the best interest of the West River Trail (group) to own that property. You don’t want to be looking at a tax bill, I wouldn’t think,” Cook said.

Cook added that, “clearly, this body is not going to decide the ownership of the land. The only way you’re going to find out is if somebody mounts a challenge. And I think everybody’s trying to avoid that.”

At this point, it’s unclear whether the trail group even can get their proposal before the town’s Development Review Board anytime soon. Annis said the trail project passes through a “special flood hazard area” and therefore requires both town and state approval.

Annis pointed to the ongoing question of the property’s ownership, saying “our residents are paying the taxes on it.” If those owners do not sign the trail group’s application, “I’m not going to send it forward,” Annis said.

But even if that happens, Annis pointed out, it does not mean the project is dead.

“I would deny the application, and they could appeal my denial to the Development Review Board,” she said. “So it doesn’t necessarily stop with me.”