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  1. #1
    Killer of Chains
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    Big Corporation, Small, Dangerous, Unkept Trail

    I have some trails that run along my town of Marietta PA (google it) that run about 5 miles from a county owned park through numerous privately owned areas. The trails run through those area, and in some parts they have problems with vehicles, in other areas they could care less who does what. Basically its about 200 yards between a railroad line and the Susquehanna River.

    The whole area was one a major source of big iron, so there are large football field sized trenches and man made hills that make a relatively flat area have some dramatic changes right next to the river.

    One area in particular is about a half mile stretch that is owned by Pennsylvania Rail Lines. There has been a trail there for 30+ years, but because its owned by the Rail company, I don't think the park service or county, or the local Boro maintains the trail. That means that logs that fall down can block the trail for years, and people walk around them. It also means that erosion is uncontrolled leaving the trail dangerous close to drops that fall 10' to the river bank.

    Everytime it floods, the trails becomes more washed out, making several parts of the trail very weak.

    Some friends and I have taken it on ourselves to clean up logs and try redirect the trail away from the waters edge, toward the high ground of the railroad tracks, but its very difficult to build trails on land that is in that quasi-public area.

    Do we contact the railroad who will likely blow us off or just close the trail, or try to get local government on our side for making the trail safer? Or can we just clear a path, throw down some marker flags, and let the people who use the trail form a new one?
    Last edited by PaintPeelinPbody; 03-26-2008 at 06:40 AM.

  2. #2
    featherweight clydesdale
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    Does trail access involve crossing the tracks at grade/on the tracks at a non official crossing? The railroad co. will be hard to work with (they'll have to bring an attorney into it...$$$...which beancounters don't like), but access across the tracks would make it impossible IMO and not worth asking.

    If there is no crossing or a bridge/tunnel option, then you might take a politically correct option of asking your local parks and rec to pursue a trail option there, maybe by asking for a trail easement on the property. The benefit to the private land owner would be that your local gov't can absorb any liability resulting from use of the trail. The downside is that the process could take years and ultimately not come out how you want.

  3. #3
    Killer of Chains
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    Yes, the area is accessible from the public boat launch that sits adjancent to the area. No crossing the tracks or anything to that extent.

    It seems like I'd just be better to try and clear a path, block the old one with a conveniently "fallen" large log, and let people take my path...that just happens to be a more fun route to ride on.

  4. #4
    Tree Hugger
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    It's better to ask for forgiveness than permission....

    Respect the land, maintain the trails that exist, build sustainable trails without cutting trees, work with the contours of the land, and deny, deny, deny.
    I love mankind - it's people I can't stand. ~Charles M. Schulz

  5. #5
    Single Speed Junkie
    Reputation: crux's Avatar
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    Ah yes the double edged sword.

    Keep practicing trail maintenance with out land manager approval, especially when someone gets seriously hurt on that fallen log, will get the trail closed faster than you could imagine.

    Approach the land manager and he might close it down anyway.

    Develop a plan/short presentation and approach the land manager as a professional. Include photos, a brief history, and what this trail means to the community. Now you have the chance to turn a negative situation into a win - win situation for both you and the RR. The RR now sees this as an opportunity for cheap community service and good PR in local area.

  6. #6
    Witty McWitterson
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    RR companies can be extraordinarily difficult to work with. Avoid it at all costs. If you have a municipal gov't that is associated with the trail, let them be the project lead. Especailly if they understand the importance of trails and public access.

    Other wise, I'm in the camp of 'best to beg forgivness, not permission' on this one. It appears that what you're doing is for the good of all. So long as you continue doing it right(wide access, appropriate widths for multiple use, sustainable, etc, etc.), it should be fine.
    Just a regular guy.

  7. #7
    Killer of Chains
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    I'll post up some pics of the area and its current condition. Its pretty rough. Trees/limbs down all over the place and the trail has turned into a mudslide about ready to dump someone into the river in two places.

    Part of it is because fisherman use the trail to get to their favorite spots, they prefer to stay along the river, but other hikes and bikers just weaken those area, making the erosion worse.

  8. #8
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    I think you're a little bit between a rock and a hard place on this one, as you could just as likely get "blamed" if anyone hurts themselves on trails that you have maintained. Being Pennsylvania you could have the added fun of mulitple township jurisdictions.
    One thing you didn't mention was whether the line was active or not. If its not, you might be able to get the township to try for an easement to allow a rec trail. Most likely this would not be a quick process, but could be a permement fix. Fish and Boat Commission might be able to do the same if the fishing trails were/are sustainable.
    Whats the story on the other private land? Any chance any of those land owners would be willing to consider supporting a trail as a way to clean up the area? A land owner bringing a legit gripe about trespassing and trash can get a township to act faster than mountain bikers.
    If you want, send me an email.
    Frank Maguire
    Central PA IMBA State rep.

  9. #9
    Killer of Chains
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    I work as an assistant zoning officer/regional planner for a nearby municipality. I have access to GIS information, and know the land is within the Marietta Boro (where I live) and is owned by PA Rail Lines. Those lines are still active.



    The area in question is that area below the railroad tracks, but above the rivers edge. To the southeast you can see where the railroad bridge is, and to the north west end you can see the boat launch (in this image its flooded).

    All surround areas are publicly owned, with exception of 42016068.

    In this image you can see the bold yellow line indicating the municipal boundry, but that also serves a good referance for the path the trail takes as well. Very close to the waters edge.

  10. #10
    The Voice of Reason
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    you may want to get rails-to-trails involved. they deal with unabandoned rights-of-way i think. dealing with railroads would be difficult.
    I'm never gonna be a Rock Star

  11. #11
    Killer of Chains
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    The tracks aren't abandoned. Trains travel through there a few times a day.

  12. #12
    The Voice of Reason
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    that's what i meant by 'unabandoned'. they work a deal with the railroad to use a portion of their working right-of-way for a bike path. there was an article about it in their magazine. it might be called 'rails with trails' maybe?
    I'm never gonna be a Rock Star

  13. #13
    Killer of Chains
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    Ahh...ok I got ya now.

    Ya that might be avenue.

    I dunno, I might just end up blazing my own path. It's not like anyone is posting "stay on trail" signs, and with the erosion in some spots making it dangerous for me to ride my bike, what choice to I have but to take a different route?

  14. #14
    Witty McWitterson
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    Speaking as a former City Planner - at least you have your city 'connections' down. Even though its not really your muni, you've still got the connections. Going the rail trail route will lend some authenticity to everything - but honestly, this looks to be too small an area for them to deal with. I'll stand by my other statement, continue working under the radar. Don't make it more difficult, don't build stunts. Simply keep it open for safe access for fishers and bikers/hikers.
    Just a regular guy.

  15. #15
    Killer of Chains
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    Well, that's part of the problem, the "don't make it more difficult" issue that is.

    Part of dangerousness is that about 100 yards onto the trail, there is a 20ft high man made hill. It is composed mostly of iron ore, or slag. Since the railroad track and this hill are the same height, it juts out towards the river from the tracks for about 20-30ft, then drops sharply towards the water. The trail currently occupies the narrow ledge between where the water level is (high now) and the side of the hill. Our last flood basically destroyed what was left of the trail, and now in order to continue down the trail, you must actually ride on the slope of the hill. This section of trail is about 20' long. After this section, the trails turns back towards the tracks, away from the waters edge.



    In my quick little map above, you can see the red area is the "high ground". This higher areas are anywhere between 20ft (peak area described above) and 10ft (average which is just below rail track level) above the "base or ground level", which remains constant from the boat launch and other areas. Due to flooding and erosion however, the ground level is actually about 5ft above river levels. Whenever these elevations change, there is a nice drop, that is usually pretty steep. In some place your actually hoping the trail doesn't give way, in other areas it allows for a nice steep section of trail.

    The green boxes show the areas where the trail is dangerously close to this drop off.

    The Blue is the trail.

    It will be hard to reroute the trail without it going over the very steep areas. However, its very possible that the trail will crumble away from the peak/hill, and you'll have to hug the hill in order to go further.


    When I was younger, the trail went around the hill, and then made a straight shot for railroad bridge. It stayed in the middle of the area, a good distance from the water, and went over some of the elevated areas as well.

    Now it stays close to the river at all times, and tends to avoid changing elevation.

  16. #16
    Killer of Chains
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    First debris you encounter. This will be a mess to clean up, that is, if i don't reroute the trail to completely avoid it.


    Here are some pictures taken at the closest spots to the waters edge, this is about 20yrds from the above picture.

    Last edited by PaintPeelinPbody; 03-21-2008 at 06:03 PM.

  17. #17
    Killer of Chains
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    moved picture

  18. #18
    Killer of Chains
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    Facing the hill with the first eroded section to the right


    Here are three pictures of the backside of that hill (after you walked past the eroded part)


    Going down the trail, looking back at the hill

  19. #19
    Killer of Chains
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    Towards the end of the trail there is another washed out spot:


  20. #20
    Something about Mary...
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    Looks like you're living on borrowed time anyway. The river's going to keep washing away at the bank.

    IMO, do what you can to make the trail safe--without attracting a crowd, and keep your mouth shut. TC
    Dabbing my way through the singletrack of life...

  21. #21
    Who turned out the lights
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    I concur.

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