Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) this week earned a significant win against ongoing litigation threats to preserving America's inactive rail corridors for public use.
RTC General Counsel Andrea Ferster, assisted by pro bono counsel (and former RTC board member) Charles Montange, filed an amicus ("friend of the court") brief in a case in which private landowners were attempting to challenge the United States' ownership of the corridor, which was originally acquired by the railroad through federal land grants.
The rail line in question is on the same corridor as the popular Medicine Bow Rail-Trail, one of Wyoming's most successful trails, which was built by the U.S. Forest Service and spurred by the enthusiasm and monetary support of the citizens of Wyoming and nearby Colorado (right). The disputed section is approximately 30 miles east of the developed Medicine Bow Rail-Trail and represents a terrific opportunity to extend the Medicine Bow and transform a day-ride into an overnight destination trail and tourism asset .
A small group of neighboring landowners, however, have challenged the right of the United States to preserve the corridor intact and for the public benefit, a right established under federal law, including Section 9(c) of the National Trails System Act.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit rejected the appeal of the landowners, reaffirming the government's right under these federal statutes to secure the corridor for future conversion into a rail-trail. In doing so, the Court declined to follow a number of recent decisions from other circuits, which refused to recognize that the United States retains an ownership interest in all federally granted rights-of-way under federal law.
Though it doesn't receive the public profile of many of our trail-building and advocacy efforts, the work of RTC's legal program, and our General Counsel Andrea Ferster, involves perhaps our most critical challenge: preserving the corridors. Each time these public assets are transferred into private hands and fragmented, America loses not only the opportunity to build a public pathway, a tourism asset, or a community connector, it also loses a piece of its railroading and pioneering history.
For more about RTC's legal work to rail-trail future, visit www.railstotrails.org/ourWork.