I support the Skuna Valley Trail and the landowners

Over the past two weeks, since publishing a front page story on the success of the Tanglefoot Trail and the interest it has sparked in Calhoun for the  potential Skuna Valley Trail – the approximate 23-mile stretch of old railroad line between Bruce and Coffeeville – I’ve received countless comments and questions from people from all corners of Calhoun County and beyond.
This is the perfect space to answer those questions. I believe the Skuna Valley Trail would be an overwhelming success for Calhoun County, but I also believe in landowners’ rights and that deeds must be honored.

Based on the interviews I conducted up and down the Tanglefoot Trail, which runs from Houston to New Albany, I couldn’t find anyone who had something bad to say about it, and I tried to find them. Even those who noted they were opposed to it in the beginning, such as Houlka Mayor Jimmy Kelly, stated now they’re big supporters of it.

Joel McNeece

It has attracted remarkable numbers of people to Chickasaw, Union and Pontotoc counties for the explicit purpose of riding a bike down that trail. Greg Vaughn, owner of the Algoma Country Store, said he had visitors in his store from four different countries and countless states. He’s had to add workers in his store to accommodate the traffic. In fact, the trail has spawned at least six new businesses along its route and more are expected.

I believe the Skuna Valley Trail would produce similar results for Bruce, Calhoun and Yalobusha counties. The biggest concern is often long term costs. There appear to be grants available to build the trail and the federally mandated tax increase that would accompany it would be less than $2 a year for 90% of Calhoun Countians. I believe the gains of such a trail would more than offset that, not only through the likelihood of new jobs and boosted revenues for local businesses, but improved quality of life opportunities for our citizens.
I agree with Bruce Mayor Rudy Pope when he said if it can be built, it’s an opportunity we can’t afford to lose.

That opportunity, however, should only be available if the current landowners are willing to grant another easement to their land, and it is their land.

Over the past two years, I’ve seen copies of at least half a dozen of the deeds and they all explicitly say when the rails are removed the property is to revert to the landowner. I understand the government’s position of wanting to maintain those easements, which were acquired for $1 in 1925, in case rail is needed again, but the deeds should be honored. If the government is allowed to simply ignore existing deeds, with no additional compensation to the landowner, then what else might it come take from us?

The landowners have every right to demand their deeds be upheld and the U.S. Supreme Court agreed in a related case in Wyoming just last year.

Bottom line – I am convinced the Skuna Valley Trail would be a great success for Calhoun County, but it should only happen if the landowners are willing to  grant easements for its use as the landowners did 90 years ago.

Email Joel McNeece at joelmcneece@gmail.com & follow him on Twitter @joelmcneece