There have been many articles in the newspapers lately regarding the Paul Bunyan Trail and the recent court ruling. I'm not an attorney but even I can understand language that says once the railroad is gone the property reverts back to the landowner. Thank goodness the appeals court gave legitimacy to a legal document. Why even have deeds if our legal system won't support the language. The DNR was ill-advised to purchase the ROW (Right-of-Way) in the first place.
There are many problems with the Paul Bunyan Trail regarding ownership. I am aware of the DNR claiming as little as 20 feet ROW to over 500 feet ROW on adjoining or nearby landowners. Many people have been given the chance to buy back ROW because they have encroached (rewarded because they broke the law) and others who have asked to buy back have been told no because the DNR might need extra land for future use. I assume most people have never had an attorney actually look at their abstract to read the language of the original ROW to the railroad. If they did, some might find similar or exact language that the Hess and Sandberg properties have. Some might find that the railroad had no deed at all. In 1991 the DNR purchased the ROW with intentions of creating a trail for public use. I was, and still am in favor of that. However, in reality what they have done is create a mess.
The inequitable treatment of land owners along the trail should be addressed. The state should be up front with everyone in regards to ownership and use. All they need is 20 feet through private landowners. In areas where the trail goes through public land, the state should make the rest stops and whatever else they require. Too much money is being spent to take ROW that they don't really need, not to mention the anger and frustration each landowner goes through by being treated differently than their neighbors. Most people won't question the DNR because they don't have the money to fight them in court. I have a neighbor that has spent five years and $40,000 on a legal battle to get back part of a wide ROW that the state didn't need. If the DNR had employees that worked with people in a respectful, informative, and timely matter these issues would be resolved and you'd have a public perception that is far more positive than it is now.
Most, if not all legal action would disappear if the DNR would simply work with people as neighbors and not be so divisive. I hope that our state's Supreme Court has the wisdom to uphold the Appellate Court's decision and I also hope the DNR has the foresight to make some difficult but needed changes in regards to the Paul Bunyan Trail.
(Scott is a resident of Benedict, a teacher with the Pine River-Backus School District and a land owner with property along the Paul Bunyan Trail.)
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