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Re: [at-l] Losing land to AT/Eminent Domain

The recent discussion, which started with the land in Maryland is interesting
and sad indeed. As a member of the ATC Board of Managers and a hiker, I am
very interested in how government agencies interact with landowners along the
Trail. There have been some areas that have been handled extremely well. 

One area where things are going well is in Massachusetts in the valley
between the Taconics and Berkshires where local residents have banded
together working on arranging conservation easements to protect the viewshed.
It is a win-win deal. The Park Service pays the folks for the easement (some
of the residents have given the easements as well), which leaves the
ownership in tact, but stipulates that it must remain as it is (no
development into condos, etc).

One area where things have gone badly is in Maryland. When the Park Service
began gearing up for lands acquisition in 1978, the state of Maryland
expressed a strong interest in acquiring the lands themselves and to
administer them as state park lands. The NPS, of course, agreed. The area
residents heard nothing of all this until the state filed to condemn the
land. As was appropriate, a large cry went up from the people living along
the Trail. There voices were heard in the state capitol and the state backed
down. Land acquisition in Maryland continued to be done by the state of
Maryland until a few years ago when they requested the Park Service take
over. The Appalachian Trail Project Office inherited a very tough project--an
area filled with folks who had been done wrong at least once already in the
name of Trail protection. Things have progressed slowly. 

Another problem that has come up is that when the Park Service went about
getting lands to protect the trail corridor, they initially took a narrow
view of that corridor. They sought to protect the pathway itself and kept it
confined to a strip of land 100 feet wide. That means 50 feet on each side of
the Trail. Anyone who has hiked within 50 feet of a row of townhouses knows
that it is not in keeping with what the legislation proposing a National
Scenic Trail had in mind. Later the Park Service sought to go back and
protect a broader corridor based on the trail in the area. Places that were
thickly wooded would need little extra corridor, while more expansive views
would need broader protection (or viewshed management). The idea was not to
buy the views, but just to make sure that the character of the view would not
change. Many landowners are glad to receive government funds to protect the
land they too love. This money is not tax dollars by the way. Land
acquisition for the Park Service and Forest Service comes from the Land and
Water Conservation Fund only, which is paid for largely by oil companies who
pay into the fund for the rights to drill for oil offshore.

Please do not interpret this response as a defense, but an explanation. I too
am opposed to condemnation to take lands in most (almost all) cases. The only
exception being the few times that have come up when developers bought up
land in advance of AT acquisition just to make some extra profir off the
government (as was the case with the Sterling Forest). I too feel that
private citizens must cry out against there government as the folks in
Maryland did.

On the otherhand, I personally know many of the people handling land
acquisition for the A.T. for both the Forest Service and the Park Service.
Though it has not always been so, the people working there now try to be
sensitive to land owners. Sometimes the problem comes up as Jim so well
expressed when the bureaucracy they must deal with falls through on them as
well as the land owner. Transfers take place and a whole new relationship
must be developed.

I am very interested in hearing more from hikers with personal experiences
with landowners. The bad experiences are out there and they are embarrassing.
I have not forgotten that the Park Service did Earl Shaffer (the first
thru-hiker and an officer of the ATC) wrong by taking away more land as the
concept of the corridor broadened after having reached an earlier agreement.
He's still mad and on behalf of him and some others, so am I.

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