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SHINING LIGHT: Act as if this sign is already on the trail

A sign on the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes in northern Idaho warns against straying off the greenway. A sign on the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes in northern Idaho warns against straying off the greenway.

Named one of the top riding paths in America by the Rails to Trails Conservancy, the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes is a 73-mile greenway spanning the Idaho panhandle.

I rode 42 miles of it in a 21-mile out-and-back one sweltering day this past July. The path along an old Union Pacific rail corridor runs past a series of lakes and through forest and farmland and abuts precious little civilization. I was worried that I would find no oasis to refill my water bottles until I rounded a bend and pedaled into Harrison, a tiny lake marina town. I stopped in Oneshot Charlies, where a bar gal filled my two bottles with water and ice. No charge, she said. I left a $3 tip.
If there was a dearth of water stops and a welcome absence of climbing — something road bikers are painfully accustomed to in our mountains — there was a more than ample supply of signs like the one accompanying this column. It seemed as if there was one every hundred yards.
We need to order some around here — sooner rather than later.
I didn’t expect that we’d be dealing with this situation this soon, and even my friends at the Friends of Ecusta Trail, on the Board of Commissioners and in the county manager’s office seemed caught off-guard. As soon as Watco pulled up the steel rails and railroad ties, people started walking and in some cases biking on what will become the paved Ecusta Trail.
A good problem to have it may be but make no mistake: This is a problem. The behavior of a few outliers straying off the trail into people’s yards or into any private property for that matter cannot be ignored or excused. As Barnie famously declared on an old Andy Griffith show, we need to nip it.
Last month, a reasonable and patient retired couple from Florida gently told the newly formed Henderson County Rail-Trail Advisory Committee that trail users are walking into the backyard of their home on West Allen Street.
“Our concern is people that are on the trail with their dogs — they’re not leashed,” Edward Wilson said. “And on a regular basis, dogs are in our yards. People that own the dogs come on our property and we’ve got posted signs, no trespassing, and they still intrude. … The trail is being used heavily compared to when it was just a railroad, and we’ve seen multiple things come down the road. We’re concerned about safety and the lack of law enforcement on the trail.”
“We embrace the trail,” Wilson added. “We want to use it. But we need some kind of barrier keeping people off our property. We want this to move forward.”
Ken Shelton, a retired radiologist and an Ecusta Trail crusader since the movement was launched, pointed out to the Wilsons that the city has a leash law and the state of North Carolina has laws against trespassing. If trail users walk into the Wilsons’ yard, he said, “they’re trespassers.”
In an interview, County Commission Chair Bill Lapsley tried to thread the needle, pointing out that these early adapters are proving the demand for the trail already and underscoring the sense of urgency to get it open.
“I guess I would say to the public, Can you walk on it? Yeah, you can but you do it at your own risk,” he said. “It’s not in improved condition.”
Trespassing is a problem beyond the instant case of the Wilsons on West Allen Street. The Friends of Ecusta Trail, Conserving Carolina, the cities of Hendersonville, Laurel Park and Brevard, the Tourism Development Authority and our county commissioners have come too far, invested too much and worked too hard to risk negative publicity and ill will just as the trail is gaining momentum toward asphalt on the ground and sneakers and bicycle, in-line skate and baby stroller wheels on the blacktop.
So, to coin a phrase, here’s my advice: “STAY ON TRAIL. RESPECT PRIVATE PROPERTY.”
Or, put another way, if you love the trail, please, do not love it to death.

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Contact editor Bill Moss at billmoss@hendersonvillelightning.com.