Time sought to work out deal for new rail trail

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Capital News Service
LANSING – The Friends of the Fred Meijer Heartland Trail will have more time to raise funds for a new 3-mile portion through Greenville – if the group gets its wish.
The organization asked the Surface Transportation Board for more time to negotiate with Mid Michigan Railroad Inc., the owner of the track bed, on a purchase and trail use agreement. This period would’ve expired Oct. 25.
Franz Mogdis, chair of the Edmore-based organization, noted that the board had granted extensions before.
Melanie Yasbin, Mid Michigan Railroad’s attorney, said the company supported the extension in a letter to the board.
The organization would have until March 31, 2010, to find the $1.3 million to purchase the rail corridor if the extension is approved.
Carolyn Kane, a volunteer project coordinator for the Ionia-Greenville Rail Trail Corridor, said that the next step is securing a Department of Transportation grant.
The segment through Greenville can be bought only if the remainder of the line from Greenville to Lowell is purchased as well, she said.
Kane said funding for the trail would also come from foundations, including the Meijer Foundation, started by retail store founder Fred Meijer. She also said the Frey Foundation of Grand Rapids has donated to the project.
Kane said that she doesn’t believe a lawsuit by landowners of property adjacent to the corridor would delay the project unless federal funds are used to build the trail. The landowners are seeking federal compensation, she said, and the litigation might delay the funding.
“This has been a truly exciting project,” she said.
The trail would provide “health opportunities, economic development and recreational opportunities,” she said.
Kane said she’s already heard people talking about visiting the area to use it.
Kane, the former chair of the West Michigan Trails and Greenways Coalition in Comstock Park, has been working on the project for more than two years.
Once finished, she said, the trail is “really going to be a jewel for mid-Michigan.”
The segment would add to the existing trail between Alma and Greenville.
According to Rails to Trails Conservancy, a national organization that advocates the conversion of abandoned rail lines into pathways, Michigan has 129 rail trails stretching 1,518 miles.
Mid Michigan Railroad is owned by RailAmerica of Jacksonville, Fla. In June 2008, the company discontinued service between Greenville and Lowell. Traffic on the line had declined after Greenville’s Electrolux factory closed. The line was previously owned by CSX Transportation Inc.
The company also owns tracks that are still used between Alma and Paines.
© 2009, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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