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Will Spotsy take different path on trails?

Brandon and Juliann Newton walk along the Heritage River Trail in Fredericksburg while their son, Jack, rides ahead of them. While the city is moving ahead with its trails plan, Spotsylvania supervisors are looking hard at the county's. (SUZANNE CARR ROSSI / THE FREE LANCE–STAR)

A plan to develop a network of trails in Spotsylvania County appears to be at a standstill.

A majority on the seven-member Board of Supervisors say they support a long-term county guide called the Trailways Master Plan that identifies about 100 miles of potential trails.

But some want assurances in writing that Spotsylvania will not invoke eminent domain to build paths. County staff said they never intended to condemn land for trails.

Supervisors Timothy McLaughlin and Ann Heidig also say they’re concerned about the cost to the county, including staff time, of pursuing and maintaining trails.

Board members discussed the trails plan on Jan. 22 and may decide whether to continue with it at a meeting next Tuesday.

“This sounds like a county project that the taxpayers are going to pay for eventually,” said McLaughlin, who asked whether the county would rather pay for trails or public safety and education.

A potential cost-saving measure identified in the trails plan is to partner with the Rappahannock Regional Jail to assist with maintenance and litter cleanup.

It’s been about two years since supervisors unanimously approved the trails guide and subsequently signed a memo of understanding with the nonprofit Spotsylvania Greenways Initiative, which supports trail efforts.

But the political dynamic of the board has changed since then. The four-member majority of supervisors, who took office in January 2012, ran on conservative platforms that emphasized low taxes and property rights. Those supervisors are Heidig, McLaughlin, David Ross and Paul Trampe.

County Planning Director Wanda Parrish asked supervisors at the Jan. 22 meeting if they wanted to continue with the trails plan, which would include applying for grants and seeking easements. She also asked them if they planned to keep working with the Greenways Initiative.

Supervisor Gary Skinner moved to proceed with the plan, and Supervisor Benjamin Pitts seconded the motion.

“This is perfect for our tourism,” Skinner said, noting the county’s Civil War history.

Skinner later withdrew his motion after some expressed concerns about cost and eminent domain.

The board asked Parrish to provide the cost to the county—including staff time—of pursuing trails and to revise Spotsylvania’s agreement with the Greenways Initiative to state that eminent domain will not be used.

The county hasn’t spent local money, other than staff time, on the trails plan.

Chris Folger, chairwoman of the Greenways Initiative, said the nonprofit has invested about $141,000 in the county over the last four years. That includes in-kind contributions such as volunteer hours and out-of-pocket costs.

The Greenways Initiative has also helped secure $10,000 in grants, Folger said.

Supervisors Trampe and Ross said in emails that they want to continue with the trails program.

Trampe said he’s “generally in favor” of it, but said some issues need to be worked out. He said he’s received complaints about people wandering off trails or leaving trash on private property.

Ross said he’d “fully support” the trails program with a written provision that eminent domain won’t be invoked.

“Bike trails have the flexibility to wind and curve in such ways that there should never be a need to take someone’s property for such use,” he said.

Supervisors, not the Greenways Initiative, have the authority to condemn private land for public use, such as trails. Future boards would not be bound by any policy restricting eminent domain.

“As long as I’m on this board, I can tell you I’ll never vote for eminent domain for any types of trailways,” Skinner said.

Supervisor Emmitt Marshall says he thinks the state should restrict localities from using eminent domain for trails so that future boards can’t do it.

Folger of the Greenways Initiative said it would be counterproductive to condemn land for trails. She said she’s happy to amend the nonprofit’s agreement with the county to take eminent domain off the table.

“We’ll readily sign it,” Folger said. “We are absolutely opposed to asking” for eminent domain.

RELATED STORY: City moves ahead on rail trail

Jeff Branscome: 540/374-5402

jbranscome@freelancestar.com

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