Court Rules in Favor of West River Trail

West River Trail, Rice Farm Road AccessFrom the Brattleboro Reformer, Friday, November 10, 2017. http://www.reformer.com/stories/court-rules-in-favor-of-west-river-trail-group,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.

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 lowersection@gmail.com with any questions.

 

A Southern Vermont Trail for All Seasons

West River TrailA letter from Friends of the West River Trail, Lower Section:

Dear users of the West River Trail,
The Trail has become an important feature in our local landscape and we hope you have had a chance to experience the trail for yourself recently. If so, you may have encountered other trail users walking, jogging, x-c skiing, snowshoeing, birding and biking, and you no doubt noticed improvements to several sections of the trail. During June and July, volunteers completed essential maintenance tasks of replacing damaged culverts, moving fallen rocks and leveling trail surface to control erosion, cover roots, and fill in holes. New this summer in the Riverstone Preserve is the installation of a beautiful picnic table hand-crafted from locally harvested white oak. Looking ahead, we’d like to embark on professional removal and suppression of invasive species that – despite on-going volunteer efforts to combat them – have taken hold and threaten the rich biodiversity along the trail. Please consider making a donation to help support the effort to maintain and improve the trail for all users.

To make a secure donation, click on the DONATE link or click on the tab above to go to the West River Trail DONATE PAGE. Checks may be mailed to Friends of the West River Trail, Lower Section, 138 Elliot Street, Suite 3, Brattleboro, VT 05301.Please help our community enjoy the trail for seasons to come by making a donation. Thank you!

Friends of the West River Trail is a registered 501 (3) (c) organization.

Please feel free to contact us via this website, by clicking on the CONTACT tab above.

Friends of the West River Trail Steering Committee: Lester Humphreys, Chair, Jason Cooper, Matt Mann, Malcolm Moore, Kathleen White & Alex Wilson

Friends of the West River Trail Fundraising Committee: Judy Davidson, Chair, Martin Langeveld, Brett Morrison, Orly Munzing, Marcia Steckler & Tom Yahn

West River Trail Workday Sat July 23

wrt bridge july 2013Please join us this Saturday, July 23, 9 AM for a trail workday!

 We will be installing 2 culverts and cleaning some drainage ditches to improve drainage in heavy rains and do more work on removal and control of invasive plants.

The trail is in very good condition this year.  Our work will help keep the trail dry and easy to use.  Come help out for a couple of hours this Saturday morning! We will have fun and hope to have some refreshments.

Important:  This trip will be meeting at 9:00am. We will be  meeting at the Fox Farm Rd access.

Directions:  Fox Farm Rd is near the intersection of Black Mountain Rd and Rice Farm Rd. Fox Farm Rd is a right off of Black Mtn Rd from the Rice Farm Rd direction.  It is a left turn off Black Mtn Rd from the World Learning direction. Once on Fox Farm Rd, the trail head is a short distance down the road on the right.  Look for a group of volunteers congregating.

Bring: footwear for working in wet ground, gloves, a water bottle & bug spray. We have plenty of tools.  If you prefer to bring your own, we suggest: iron rake, hoe, or shovel.  Please label your tools clearly.

We look forward to working with you to improve the trail!  Thanks!

For more information, contact: Jason Cooper at jason.cooper10@gmail.com

 

The Conversation Continues on Route 30 Gateway Improvements

I-91 bridge Jan 2016The conversation continues on Route 30 gateway improvements. Excerpt from an article in The Commons.

At a May 24 informational meeting, consultants contracted to conduct the study released a draft existing-conditions report and sought feedback from an audience of approximately 20 people.

Alex Wilson of the Friends of West River Trail discussed plans for a pedestrian bridge across the West River to connect Route 30 to the trail. Plans for a cable pedestrian bridge slung under the new Interstate-91 bridge were abandoned, Wilson said. Costs for cabling were higher than expected and the bridge would sway too much, he said. Wilson, who also serves on the community advisory committee, said the Friends are instead investigating constructing a bridge at a narrower part of the river near the West River Park.

Full article available at The Commons website. Originally published in The Commons issue #359 (Wednesday, June 1, 2016). This story appeared on page A1.

For more information click on the Place Sense website.

FWRT Annual Meeting and Open House

West River Railroad

A train departs the South Londonderry depot during the hey-day of the West River Railroad.

Friends of the West River Trail: Doings at the Depot!

The public is invited to attend an Open House and social hour, with refreshments provided, hosted by the Friends of the West River Trail (FWRT), to be held on Wednesday, March 23, from 6:00 to 7:30 PM, in the South Londonderry Depot on Route 100.

At the Open House, visitors will be updated on the current projects involving both the West River Trail (South Londonderry to Brattleboro when completed) and the Depot itself. Representatives of both the Northern (Londonderry to Townshend) and Southern (Newfane to Brattleboro) trail sections will be on hand.

A highlight of the evening will be an update on the status of the West River Railroad Museum, being developed by the Historical Society of Windham County in their recently-acquired Old Newfane Railroad Station.

Plans for the 2016 West River Trail Run will be presented by a representative from the Collaborative. The 2016 event will take place on National Trails Day, June 4

The Open House will be preceded at 5:30 PM by a short business meeting of the FWRT Board, to which visitors are welcome to attend if they choose.

Please plan to join your friends and the Friends of the West River Trail for an enjoyable and informative evening.

South Londonderry Depot, 34 West River Street, South Londonderry, VT 05155

West River Trail in the News

West River Trail in the News

West River Trail Summer - 1West River Trail moves forward. Organization works on plans to improve the area, including trail design and river access By Wendy M. Levy.
Reprinted courtesy of The Commons

DUMMERSTON—Just like the former West River Railroad that once traveled from Brattleboro to its terminus at the South Londonderry Depot, the recreational trail that now lies on its railbed has seen its share of challenges. But, unlike the ill-fated railroad, progress on the trail keeps chugging along.

The West River Trail, developed and maintained by the Friends of the West River Trail (FWRT), is a publicly accessible system of paths meant for “educational, recreational, and alternative transportation purposes,” according to the FWRT’s website.

Off-limits to cars, the trail is used year-round by hikers, bicyclists, picnickers, joggers, cross-country skiers, and snowshoers. It begins near the Marina Restaurant in Brattleboro and ends in South Londonderry.

Along its 36-mile journey, the trail is broken by Route 30, buildings, and some sections where the FWRT is still working on construction and securing access.

At the July 22 Dummerston regular Selectboard meeting, some members of the FWRT presented the board with an update on the group’s progress building the trail. Alex Wilson told the board the FWRT “has worked with the Vermont Nature Conservancy (VNC) to reroute the trail away from neighbors’ backyards.” He said the FWRT is currently working with the VNC on a Memorandum of Understanding to “finalize plans to improve the area, including trail design and river access.” The portion of the trail the FWRT is working on lies along Dummerston’s Rice Farm Road near the old Presby-Leland Quarry. The ownership of this stretch is a current point of contention between the FWRT and a few of the neighbors whose land abuts the railbed. The issue lies at the intersection of property rights, conflicting documents, and what happens when public utilities and resources obtain a right-of-way but then cease to exist and change ownership.

Jason Cooper, also with the FWRT, told The Commons the story of the West River Railroad and how it relates to the current challenges in developing the trail system. In the 1880s, the Vermont legislature approved the railroad that would later be known as “36 miles of trouble.” After a number of false starts and large and small debacles, the final owner who had worked hard with his wife to maintain the rails finally gave up. The railroad went bankrupt in 1936, and the assets were returned to the state.
But, the owners of the quarry in Dummerston needed the railroad to ship their granite to Brattleboro, so it could be sent “all over the world,” said Cooper. So, the quarry owners bought the railroad from “just north of the quarry to the center of Brattleboro,” Cooper said.

In 1938, a hurricane destroyed the bridge spanning the West River, and “the quarry gave up,” Cooper said. They sold the entire railroad to a New York salvage company. This included the rails, bridges, rolling stock, switches, and spikes — everything metal — which the salvage company stripped and sold into the lucrative steel market. The salvage company also took ownership of the railbed itself, including the rights-of-way that allowed the old railroad to pass through private property.

As the warranty deed for the property of one of the trail’s abutters says, “The premises are conveyed subject to such rights of way and easements as may exist upon or across the premises, of record or in fact, including but not limited to public utility easements, such rights, if any, as may be held by Vermont White Granite Quarries, Inc. or its successors, an [sic] the rights of the public in Town Highway #62.”

In early 2011, Cooper contacted the Salzburg Company, the salvage company that, at that time, owned the railroad that was once owned by the quarry. On May 16, 2011, Cooper bought the railroad from the company, and then transferred the deed to the FWRT.

Sigrid Pickering, one of the neighbors whose property crosses the old railbed, told the Selectboard at the July 22 meeting she had been “assured” by an unnamed “top official” that in 1936, the railbed right-of-way on her property reverted “to her.” She told the board she “questions what Jason Cooper purchased.”
(Pickering cancelled a scheduled interview with The Commons and declined further interviews.)

Wilson told the Dummerston Selectboard that the FWRT hired Eric Morse, of Morse Land Surveying, “to define ownership of the railbed.” Morse’s findings, in a letter dated Jan. 8, 2015, state the FWRT has the right to use the trail. As soon as the VNC gives the FWRT the go-ahead, clearing and maintaining the portion of the Rice Farm Road trail can begin.

Although a few neighbors seem displeased, Cooper said most of them “love it,” and he added some have donated land and money to help the FWRT’s efforts. None of the Friends have collected a dime for their work, Cooper said, noting some have spent upwards of $5,000 of their own funds to further the goal of establishing and maintaining a recreational and alternative-transportation trail along the West River.
Of the FWRT, Cooper said, “We’re just a group of volunteers who feel this is an incredible resource to the community.”

Originally published in The Commons issue #320 (Wednesday, August 26, 2015). This story appeared on page D1.
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