Concerns voiced at South Adams Trails hearing
It was evident that those speaking out at a hearing on behalf of South Adams Trails, phase one, are coming from different directions. What each had in common was a wish that differences could be settled in respect to each other's feelings and for the best of county interests.
Roger Kottlowski, representing Commonwealth Engineers, Inc., presented the plan for all phases of trail construction. Phase one would be constructed in two segments. One segment would begin at a trail house that would be constructed just west of Rainbow Lake and stretch to the Wabash River.
The other segment would begin at Lehman Park and go south to County Road 700. Both portions would utilize part of the old railroad corridor that used to stretch through the area. The initial phase would cover 1.7 miles of the project that would eventually expand to three miles between Berne and Geneva.
The hearing was held in the community room at the Geneva Town Hall.
Kottlowski noted that the trailhead building would resemble the appearance of a railroad station. Design-wise, the structure can be expanded and continue with the depot appearance. Initially, the building will contain restrooms and shelter.
Also present was Ann Mouser who reported on an extensive environmental study that included such facets as ecological and cultural resources, community impacts and any potential connection with hazardous materials.
Habegger explained that the Right of Way process would include purchase of land at fair market value, two appraisals of land and Indiana Department of Transportation inspection of potential sales. Habegger noted that all offers would be made in writing.
"We will pass out packets to all property owners in regards to land acquisition," said Habegger. "You will have an opportunity to make comments in this meeting and for a two week period following until March 1."
Habegger said that those who wish to mail comments could do so by mailing them to South Adams Trails, P.O. Box 122, Berne, Ind., 46711 or by emailing comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Several property owners whose land would border the trail expressed concern about their personal privacy and the safety of their property.
Jerry Amstutz said that the property was originally given to the railroad with the understanding that if it would ever cease to be used, the land would be given back to the owners.
"In the end, we had to buy that land back from the government," said Amstutz.
"We bought the wooded area for hunting and because we wanted to keep people away. We still have problems with people accessing our property without permission to hunt mushrooms and for other reasons."
Dean Amstutz, also a landowner where the trail would go through, said that he purchased his property in 1997 for his own use.
"I have dedicated my life as a police officer, I would like a little privacy," said Amstutz. "I already have problems with people trespassing. I can't imagine what it's going to be like if they put up a trail. I think it's a travesty of justice to infringe on our Amish neighbors.
"I hunt; when are you going to stop us," continued Amstutz. "We bought this land for this. Now you are trying to take it away from us. We already have problems with security issues. I can't imagine what it would be like to have the public in our back yard on a long term basis."
First Bank of Berne president Kent Liechty said that the trail would have a very positive economic impact on the community.
"We've looked at the trail in the Rochester and Kokomo area and it's amazing what kind of economic impact it is having on the communities that it passes through," said Liechty. "When businesses come to our community and look for a place to locate, they see that we can provide them with good schools, outstanding churches and that we take an interest in recreation and shopping.
They look at the Swiss Village Wellness Center, Clock Tower, the Limberlost Site and welcome center in Geneva."
Liechty said that the development of South Adams Trails would add another new opportunity to attract businesses.
"This will benefit the tax base for our schools and roads," added Liechty. "I look at this as a quality of life issue for future generations."
Randy Lehman, executive director of the Limberlost State Historic Site, said that he has been on a planning committee for the project for over five years.
"Now we hope to have some construction start on this project this year," said Lehman. "I look at this as something that is going to add a lot of value and property value to our area."
"We are all about what we can do to further economic development," said Attorney David Baumgartner, president of the Berne Community Development Corporation. "We look at this as a great opportunity for recreation for people in southern Adams County, for walking, running, skating and biking. We have a rich history; I can see the idea of points of interest as a good way to present unique points of interest in our area.
"Individually, I've seen real barriers come down between Berne and Geneva in the last few years," continued Baumgartner. "I believe this can further that. I do hope that the committee will consider the concerns of the property owners. I hope that there will be consideration of ways to help with security issues and address privacy concerns."
Berne Mayor Bill McKean said that he also feels that the trail will be a valuable asset to continuing the bonding of the Berne and Geneva communities.
"I'm looking forward to being able to ride a bike from Geneva to Berne without having to get on the highway or fight traffic," said Geneva Clerk-Treasurer Bill Warren. "I understand the concerns of property owners. I hope that the committee will find a way to address those. I hope that this will be for the good of Geneva and Berne citizens."
Tom Young, of Jay County, who lives in Portland, said that he is interested in the trails because there was such a network of trails in the community where he had lived in Illinois.
"It was incredible what happened when the communities along these trails started to connect. People began to meet other people from other communities. It proved to be beneficial to exercise and valuable social connection," Young said.
"We live right beside the railroad bed, right beside the proposed trail," said William Schwartz. "We have a very nice and quiet neighborhood. Everyone where we live feel that this would take away our privacy. If you put this trail through here, we feel like you are opening our back doors. We have gardens and buildings right there. I don't mean to insult anyone, but I don't feel very excited about having a trail that close to our property."
Amos Schwartz said that Amish drive down a lane so that they can exit without going on to the highway. He noted that construction of the trail would cut off that road and force them to drive on to U.S. 27 in order to exit from their area.
South Adams school board member John Mann spoke in interest of the school corporation.
"We look forward to our cross country team using the trail for exercise," Mann observed. "I feel that the trails will help create more tourism. A lot of people will enjoy them. People have concerns and I understand those; I believe our society as a whole has a lot of concerns. I would hope that this would be a way to improve society."
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