P.O. Box 75, Stony Creek, New York 12878 - 518/696-5748
The right to own private property is a fundamental American freedom that
guarantees personal liberty and promotes economic prosperity.
The Mississippi River Heritage Corridor is back!
Twelve years ago, following in the footsteps of the pioneering leadership of Marilyn Hayman in Wisconsin, PRFA publicized the unprecedented extent of the proposed National Park Service National Heritage Area called the Mississippi River Corridor. My article, "Surgically Removing the Aorta of America," outlined the multiple agencies and powers that would come into play to tie up land in every county, and perhaps much of ten states, adjacent to the Mississippi River from Minnesota and Wisconsin on the Canadian border to Mississippi and Louisiana on the Gulf Coast. People gathered forces and were heard by Congress. We won. Congress did not enact the Mississippi River Corridor legislation.
This spring, Congressional sponsors are touting the potential of a Mississippi River National Trail to bring in tourism dollars to the communities along the 2,500-mile long riverbed. The sponsors have proposed a feasibility study to the House of Representatives.
A trail is the heart of a heritage area and is the most direct tool in the heritage area arsenal to diminish private property rights.
To establish heritage areas after they are enacted by Congress, the National Park Service and its federal and state accomplices use skillful pressure, deception, manipulation, and lavish grants to enact stultifying local and regional land-use regulations for landscape preservation. But the National Park Service and its lackeys act piecemeal.
To build trails, the process is more direct, however deceptive. The direct part is the use of the threat of eminent domain. Note that I referred to the use of "threat" of eminent domain. As a civil engineer, I am quite aware that to build highways, every landowner in the route does not have to experience the full condemnation procedure. It is the same process with the completion of a trail. It is the existence of the power of eminent domain to complete the trail route that puts the squeeze on the landowner and forces the landowner to sell out, whether it be the right-of-way easement, the strip of land for the trail, or the full parcel.
But, for the construction of a trail, as for the construction of a highway, the tool of eminent domain is essential. Unlike the situation with the construction of a government building, a public park, or many other public works, the course of a long trail becomes rather inflexible and must be uninterrupted. Every landowner along the long route must cave.
Every single property owner on one of the two banks of the Mississippi River would be threatened by the trail.
Of course, the Congressional sponsors are claiming that the trail poses no property rights implications. They seem to think that because no specific eminent domain language would be included in the particular bill for the Mississippi River National Trail they can assure property owners that they are safe from eminent domain! But the National Park Service has routinely used eminent domain and the threat of eminent domain to build parks and trails for generations!
In one notorious instance in New York State six years ago, the National Park Service handed jurisdiction over to the United States Attorney General to invoke eminent domain on the Graymoor monastery owned by the Franciscan Friars in Putnam County when the friars declined to grant the Park Service the land to widen the Appalachian Trail through the monasteryfor the second time. Only when a public outcry reached the halls of Congress, did the Park Service have the Attorney General's eminent domain procedure withdrawn and make a compromise with the friars to take less of their land than was originally demanded.
The Park Service's strong-arm tactics to obtain so-called "willing sellers" are well established. Their backhanded tactics and manipulation to build trails piecemeal are less well known.
The Property Rights Foundation of America has published stories of two examples of the method by which the Park Service builds trails piecemeal. Both of the trails are still under construction.
In both these trails, the Delaware and Hudson Canalway Trail and the Erie Canalway Trail (which includes the Champlain Canalway Trail), the Park Service works with local "Friends" groups it creates and nurtures to obtain the grants and ease the trail through a non-threatening initial location, such as through an existing park along a river. Working all the time with a powerful non-profit environmental organization and its consultant to further diffuse the recognition of the Park Service as the prime mover, the trail plans are grounded on paper. In a next stage, the Park Service slips further into the background, as grants flow to a local town or two to build a new section of the trail, not necessarily connected to the first, "innocently" created trail.
The process of building a trail this way takes years. A new section of trail, however, may threaten property owners. Sometimes the local town will carry the gun for the Park Service, threatening the property owners with eminent domain. The property owners are at a loss to understand why their town is involved in such an aggressive program to threaten their landownership and upset their peace and security from litigation and vandalism. But landowners in the town of Rosendale, New York, along a short "Rondout Trail," which was ultimately to be part of the Delaware and Hudson Canalway Trail, dug up enough information with their freedom of information investigations to expose the groups, including the wealthy non-profits and National Park Service, which were behind it. They organized the townspeople. As a result, the town board decided not to participate in the trail.
However, the other portions of National Park Service trails beyond those lengths defeated in particular towns will continue to develop as long as there is not a Congressionally mandated system of notification of every property owner along a proposed trail during the study stage.
One thing that the National Park Service and Congressional proponents of trails never advocate when proposing a trail study, including the new Mississippi River Trail Study Act, is to mail individual notices to every property owner along the potential trail route telling them that their property could be included in a trail that will possibly be pending before Congress and conduct meetings in each municipality to ask for comments by landowners.
If the members of Congress had any intention to be honest, the wording of such a notice could have an imaginative content, such as:
Notice: The Congress is deliberating about the funding of a public hiking, bicycle, and possibly motor vehicle trail that would go through your desirable waterfront property on the Mississippi River. The trail could (1) create potential personal injury liability for you; (2) facilitate vandalism of your property, rowdy parties, and crimes such as rape; (3) divide your property so that the waterfront part and the rest are separated by land to be owned by a not-profit organization or the local municipality, and ultimately the National Park Service; and (4) devalue your property by leaving it perpetually subject to intrusion by the non-policed public. The trail will be built using the power of eminent domain (which will probably be successful without having to bring any property owners to court), and we would appreciate your thoughts about becoming a "willing seller." Over the next ten, twenty or fifty years, the trail will be gradually widened to 100 ft., 500 ft., or wider, also using the power of eminent domain if you are not a "willing seller," and at some time in the future, the view from the trail to the remaining parts of your property and to visible portions of your community will become subject to National Park Service regulation. Please come to a Congressional hearing on such-and-such date in your town hall to present your formal comments as a real "stakeholder" along the trail. If you would prefer to present your opinion at the hearings in Washington, D.C., please fill out the enclosed form so that we can immediately arrange for your all-expenses-paid trip to be heard in the halls of power.
Signed, Your Congressional Representative.
It is obvious, especially if you have read my "Surgically Removing the Aorta of America," that the proposed Mississippi River Trail is the spine of the National Park Service's Mississippi River Corridor of twelve years ago. Ideas of power-seeking bureaucrats do not die unless they and their ideological descendants are no longer holding such offices. And members of Congress know that if the trail plan is kept secret in the beginning, and the landowners are picked off a few at a time, when the time comes to garner headlines while cutting the ribbon for their big pork-barrel accomplishment, the opposition will have been pretty well wiped out.
That's the system we are fighting. Please join with us to help people all over the U.S. win these difficult battles against trails and National Heritage Areas. The Property Rights Foundation of America urgently needs your generous support. We could accomplish so much more if our finances were greater! Your contribution goes a long way because so much of PRFA's work is volunteered, but our needs are still substantial. Please contribute as generously as you can.