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Municipality Opposes County’s Newest Trail Plan

Montgomery County’s Sunrise Mill property, northeast of Lower Pottsgrove, where the trail would run

LOWER FREDERICK PA – A prospective trail and greenway that could follow Swamp Creek across portions of Lower Frederick, Limerick, and New Hanover townships, and potentially draw future recreational traffic to an area about two miles northeast of Lower Pottsgrove, met official municipal resistance Tuesday (Jan. 31, 2017).

The trail, which is the subject of a feasibility study being conducted by the Montgomery County Planning Commission, faced intense and vocal criticism two weeks ago from owners of property along and near the creek. Now the Lower Frederick Board of Supervisors has joined the fray, saying it opposed any trail project that would involve eminent domain proceedings or taking privately held land.

Bob Yoder, chairman of the three-member governing body in Lower Frederick, said he and supervisors Ron Kerwood and Terry Sacks agreed they would “oppose any private property use” for the trail among township land owners who objected to it. “We prefer to avoid any condemnations,” he said of the board. “We recognize and support private property rights.”

Sacks was absent from the supervisors’ workshop session in the Spring Mount Road municipal building, but Yoder and Kerwood said he approved the commitment in advance. No formal vote occurred. A number of township residents who turned out for the meeting thanked supervisors for their stand. “That’s good to hear,” one said of Yoder’s statement.

No one spoke on behalf of, or represented the county at, the board meeting.

The county owns a 200-acre parcel that follows the creek, bordered by Swamp Creek Road at the north; Grebe and Yerger roads at the south, and divided through the middle by Neiffer Road. It is the home of Sunrise Mill, a grist and sawmill built in 1767, also owned by the county but not currently open to the public.

The mill, if eventually refurbished, and its surroundings are envisioned as a centerpiece of the trail stretch, presented by planners in three different scenarios. One would involve travel on only publicly owned lands; a second would focus on a biking route along public highways, and the third would hew closer to the creek and a former railway bed, and may require obtaining private parcels or rights-of-way, according to Yoder.

“No one here is interested in that,” Kerwood added, as he pointed around the board conference tables.

Area resident Jim Rupert, present at the board workshop, argued county planners should have been more open about their intent. He claimed they failed to provide affected property owners with a mailed notice about the earlier feasibility study meeting, which also was held in Lower Frederick. Instead, he said, an anonymous tipster sent last-minute warnings to him and adjacent property owners.

A lack of transparency “basically backfired on them,” Rupert said of county staffers.

Gerloff Road property owner Loren Detweiler, also at the workshop, contended that even without a condemnation the trail plan would effectively “take my whole woods.” His children now play on the family’s seven acres down to the creek’s banks, he said. Lacking assurances of future safety of a trail, “I can’t let my kids be down there,” Detweiler noted.

In a separate conversation with Kerwood, township Police Chief Paul Maxey acknowledged a creek-side trail might create problems for law enforcement.

Yoder already serves on a steering committee regarding the trail proposal, a role he plans to continue. “Maybe I can steer that right away from here,” he said, smiling.

Photo from Montgomery County

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