Judge says vehicular traffic on trail is ‘out of hand’

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(Posted April 24, 2020)

By Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor

Less vehicular traffic on the county bike trail, changes in tree cutting along the trail, and better bookkeeping. Madison County Probate and Juvenile Court Judge Christopher Brown wants to see all of this from the Madison County Park District board.

Brown voiced his concerns at the April 21 park board meeting. The board is comprised of county commissioners Mark Forrest, David Hunter and Tony Xenikis. Brown serves as the appointing authority for the park board. The bike trail, which falls under the board’s jurisdiction, runs through London and is part of the cross-state Ohio To Erie Trail.

“The vehicular traffic on (the trail) is getting out of hand,” Brown said.

Legally, the only entities permitted to have vehicles on the trail are county engineer’s office employees, the county commissioners, county sheriff’s office employees, other emergency agencies, and Brown.

“It’s a security and safety issue,” Brown said. “We need to help Sheriff (John) Swaney figure out who should be there and who should not.”

Swaney said that without knowing who officially can be on the trail, his deputies have difficulty figuring out if someone is in violation of the law.

Volunteers with the Friends of Madison County Parks & Trails (FMCPT) account for some of the extra vehicular traffic on the trail. Since the trail’s beginnings, the non-profit group has helped to maintain and improve the trail. More than a year ago, the county engineer’s office took over most of the maintenance work,but FMCPT members still help with some of tasks, from blowing debris off the trail to checking usage counters.

“It’s been a joint effort,” said county Engineer Bryan Dhume about the trail’s care. “If we need to stop with that, I’m open to finding a way to do that.”

Commissioner Mark Forrest acknowledged FMCPT’s efforts, noting that the group used to do all of the maintenance on their own and with their own money. He also acknowledged Brown’s concerns and said the board would address them.

Julia Cumming of the Madison Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) regularly checks on native prairie grass and flower remnants along the trail. She does so in a county vehicle.

“It is unrealistic for me to bicycle six miles down and back to look at prairie remnants,” she said.

Earlier in the conversation, Brown said FMCPT members should be walking or bicycling to check on the trail usage counters.

Brown said he has no problem with Cumming driving the trail because she is a county employee and would be conducting business within the scope of her job.

Forrest said the board will put together a document that clarifies who can be on the trail with vehicles. It will be presented at the board’s next meeting, set for 9:30 a.m. May 19.

Brown also expressed concern about the number of trees being cut down along the trail and private citizens taking downed trees for firewood.

He said many mature trees have been cut, particularly in the Spring Valley Road and Glade Run Road area. He argued that trees provide scenery and wildlife habitat and should be preserved.

Dhume said the board contracted with a local company to have a large number of dead ash trees removed along the trail in 2018 and 2019. He checked out the area Brown mentioned and observed where live trees had been cut down. He said he wasn’t sure why they had been cut, guessing they might have been deemed to be too close to the trail or causing damage to the trail.

Wayne Roberts, FMCPT executive director, said his group has not been involved in cutting down any live trees.

As for private citizens taking firewood, Brown said it’s a two-fold violation. It involves unauthorized people operating vehicles on the trail and private citizens taking county property.

“That is a slippery slope, and one this board should not be engaged in,” Brown said.

The judge’s third issue involves accounting practices for the park district. He noted that some of the district’s expenses are coming out of the county’s general fund when they should be coming out of a line item dedicated to the park district.

Forrest said he will have the county administrator look into the issue and rectify it so it does not happen again.

Trail usage is up

Roberts reported that use of the trail in March was up 80 percent over the five-year average for that month. The counter on the westside of the trail tallied 204 users on March 25 alone. Roberts noted that the high temperature that day was 63 degrees.

With an increase in use has come an increase in trash, both inside trash receptacle and outside along the trail.

“We are trying to encourage people to pick up trash and take it back with them,” Roberts said.

Miscellaneous

The restroom located at the Prairie Grass trailhead behind the Madison County Senior Center remains open to the trail users. Senior center staff and FMCPT members are working together to keep the restroom clean, stocked and disinfected. They also are regularly disinfecting the water fountain.

FMCPT-sponsored bike rides and events are on hold while the state’s COVID-19 social distancing guidelines remain in place.

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