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Skuna Valley Trail and the future

Reported by: Susan Parker
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Updated: 3/20/2014 10:15 am
WATER VALLEY, Miss. (WTVA) -- John T. Marion has advice for those who want to take a walk in front of his Yalobusha County home.

"If they want to walk, they can walk on the highway," said Marion.

Yalobusha and Calhoun County officials want to offer up a different route.

What's called the Skuna Valley Trail is a 22-mile stretch of railroad which may one day be open to cyclists, walkers and others for recreational purposes.

"I think it will help," said Bill Fleming.

Not everyone feels that way.

"That land should go back to the people," said Marion.

In the National Trails System Improvements Act of 1988, Congress made it possible for the government to retain the title to abandoned or forfeited railroads.

A Wyoming landowner sued the U.S. Government for doing just that and has the U.S. Supreme Court on his side.

The question is, will that decision have any impact on the Skuna Valley Trail, otherwise known as the Skuna Valley Recreational District?

The attorney who represents the Yalobusha County Board of Supervisors says county officials have followed all legal channels appropriately, but he does have questions that he wants answered.

"We think we're in compliance with the decisions that existed at the time as far as our acquisition of it," said John Crow.

Acquisition came through what's called "Railbanking."

The National Trails System Act defines that as a voluntary agreement between the railroad company and the trail agency to use an out-of-service rail corridor as a trail until some railroad might need the corridor again for the rail service.

It's goes on to say because a railbanked corridor is not considered abandoned. It can be sold, leased or donated to a trail manager without reverting to the adjacent landowners.

That enabled Calhoun and Yalobusha County claim ownership of the land beneath the abandoned rail line.

The word "abandoned" can be seen throughout legal documents which create the Rails-To-Trails Recreational District.

The federally-established railbanking program is also in the wording.

While the county attorney wades through the U.S. Supreme Court decision, Yalobusha County Supervisor Tommy Vaughn continues to seek grant money to develop the trail.

"We certainly didn't go into this to hurt anybody. We wanted to benefit the most people we could in the county," said Vaughn.

Published reports indicate the U.S. Supreme Court decision will be reviewed by the U.S. Department of Justice.
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