The newsletter of AMERICAN TRAILS -- NEW YEARS 1998

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Rail Trail News

Kentucky group works for rail trails statewide

Kentucky is currently ranked 49th in the nation for miles of rail trails. In 1994 a group of Kentuckians decided that a statewide program was needed to preserve abandoned railways, and to provide for their interim use as trails and greenways.

The Kentucky Rails to Trails Council was established to work with local interests, private groups, elected officials, and local, state and federal agencies to increase public awareness of trail opportunities. The Council also provides expertise and factual information to those seeking to establish policies and programs which support the preservation of rail corridors.

For more information: Kentucky Rails to Trails Council, Inc., PO Box 24963, Lexington KY 40524-4963.

Power lines proposed for Illinois Prairie Path

After an almost seven-year battle, Commonwealth Edison is preparing to place high-voltage transmission lines along 4.5 miles of the Illinois Prairie Path (IPP), from Aurora to Wheaton.

It is an ironic twist, since rail trail advocates actively seek the revenue from easements for underground and unobtrusive telecommunications lines. Power lines are, however, a familiar sight along many rail trails and other greenways have been built on electric utility corridors.

Presently ComEd's wooden poles supporting 6 KV&endash;34 KV lines run along the edge of the IPP's 100 foot right-of-way. Members of the Friends of the Prairie Path say the proposed 138 KV power lines atop 95&endash;125 foot tall steel towers would destroy the beauty of the path and eliminate miles of trees. The Friends group, along with the City of Warrenville, Citizen's Utility Board, and DuPage County, fought ComEd's plans and favored another alternative: placing the lines along I-88.

The IPP, a 55 mile long trail used for biking, hiking, horseback riding, cross-country skiing and nature study, is believed to be the first recognized "rails to trails" conversion in the United States. DuPage County acquired the IPP shortly after the Chicago, Aurora & Elgin, an electric commuter railway, was abandoned in 1961. Com Ed acquired the electrical right-of-way in 1946 for the sum of ten dollars from the CA&E.

Articles on the Illinois Prairie Path can be found at: www.mcs.net/~msc/IPP/index.html

New Hampshire state bill would fund rail trails

A new bill introduced in the 1997 New Hampshire legislative session proposes a new way to fund rail trail maintenance. It would impose a state property tax on telecommunications easements within the boundaries of state-owned railroad corridors.

Over the past few years the state has spent millions of dollars (mostly ISTEA Enhancement funds) to acquire 243 miles of inactive or abandoned railroad corridor to preserve them for future potential railroad use. Most of the corridors have been deemed by New Hampshire Department of Transportation (NHDOT) as unlikely to be reactivated in the near future, so they are being managed as interim rail trails. However, funds and staff to manage and maintain these corridors are lacking. The bill, H.E. 563, might provide such funds.

The tax rate is set at $1,250 per mile of easement. The state revenue would be split, with 75 percent going to the existing "Special Railroad Fund" and 25 percent to municipalities in which the railroad easements are located. With 128 miles of telecommunications easements within the boundaries of state-owned railroad corridors, the tax would yield about $160,000 per year.

NHDOT could use the money to manage and maintain 223 miles of inactive corridor and to protect the state's investment in them. There are 446 miles of boundaries, and thousands of adjacent landowners. Funds are needed to maintain drainage, (including blocked and collapsing culverts), control erosion, maintain bridges and abutments, and install scores of gates to control access and prevent damage from vehicles and waste dumpers.

From Kenyon F. Karl's New Hampshire Rail Trails Web site. See American Trails' site at: www.outdoorlink.com/amtrails/ and go to America's Trails State by State, then New Hampshire, and look under Rail Trails.