Following a new path?
Proposed trail on old rail line presents potential, uncertainty
The thought of a future trail system in Marion County is a welcome prospect for Bob Woelk, a Hillsboro teacher and avid outdoorsman.
“Anything that would enhance people’s ability to get out and walk I would be all for,” he said.
The proposed path would lead from McPherson through Hillsboro as part of Kansas’ Rails-to-Trails program.
Having another outlet for people to get outdoors and be active is helpful but raises liability concerns, rural Lehigh farmer Linda Peters said.
“I’m not totally against it because I think people need to get out,” she said. “Go do things and exercise. I am just a bit concerned about repercussions of misuse, mistreatment, or what if someone gets hurt? Who’s at fault?”
Even if the trail were to be successful, Peters is unsure how it would be maintained and kept from being overgrown by plants or torn up by people on off-road equipment like ATVs.
Central Kansas Conservancy president Michele Cullen has high hopes for the planned trail.
“This is something that’s been going on in other states for years and years,” she said. “It’s still fairly new to Kansas.”
There already is a visible difference in the number of people using the conservancy’s nearly completed trail from McPherson to Lindsborg, which Cullen hopes carries over to the trail in Marion County.
“It’s just amazing to see how many people are out there using the trail on a daily basis,” she said. “We’ve had people from out of town there who come and check it out. We’re hoping it draws more tourism to the area.”
Repurposing the Santa Fe line in Marion County, however, will have to wait until the conservancy finishes the McPherson-Lindsborg trail.
The success of that path could go a long way in deciding how Peters feels about having a trail near her house.
“There are so many variables,” Peters said. “I would like to see what happens between McPherson and Lindsborg, and how often that’s used.”
There is another indicator already in Hillsboro that Peters sees for how a prospective trail could do. A path recently was installed within city limits running from Main St. to Hillsboro Community Hospital.
Being comfortable with the concept is about understanding why people are using the trail, Cullen said.
“I think it’s just the concept they don’t like,” she said. “People who are on a trail are not there to bother their property, crops, or anything like that. It’s essentially like a sidewalk going around your neighborhood.”
Peters, however, sees it less as a sidewalk through the neighborhood and more of one through her back yard.
“It’s a good place for people to go out and be away from traffic but they’re also going through the middle of someone’s ground,” she said. “They may think it’s just ground, but that’s our livelihood. That’s where we make our money.”
Cullen believes having tree lines on both sides of trails to separate the trail from any private property could de-incentivize trespassing.
“That’s the best situation for both parties,” she said. “It keeps people on the trail and shades the trail. As you can imagine, in Kansas it gets pretty darn hot out on those trails.”