Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Hopes for Rail Trail in Hands of Municipalities

The past few years have been frustrating for advocates of the "rails to trails" initiative along the old Norfolk Southern Railroad line running through seven municipalities in the southern end of the county.

The previous board of commissioners attempted to create the rail trail unilaterally, by taking the 23-mile strip of land by eminent domain.

But the municipalities fought back in court, winning a judgment against the county in November 2005. A subsequent appeal upheld the lower court's ruling.

Currently the land still belongs to Norfolk Southern, but that is about to change.

"The subdivision plan for the Enola low grade line was approved by the County Planning Commission in 2007," James Cowhey, executive director of the Lancaster County Planning Commission, told NewsLanc.

The subdivision will break the former low-grade line railway bed into six lots, and each lot will be conveyed from Norfolk Southern to each of the six municipalities in which the lots are located, Cowhey said.

The deeds should be recorded in the next six to eight weeks, he said.

Then, it will be time for each municipality to decide whether there will be a rail trail.

"I believe once they are in ownership of the Enola Line, the municipalities will feel more confident about a future use for that area that may include public access of some kind," Cowhey said.

"A future rail trail is still part of the vision in our Parks and Open Space Plan," he said, but cautioned that "prodding from the County in the past only worked to harm relationships between the County and the municipalities and set back efforts to have a trail in place.

"For now, we will stand ready to assist the municipalities should one or more of them decide to make the area available for public use," Cowhey continued, but ultimately "the impetus for the trail after conveyance must come from the municipalities."