"Where Fillmore County News Comes First"
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Not in my backyard

Fri, Mar 16th, 2001
Posted in

Monday, June 26, 2000

In the usually quiet burg of Spring Valley, the hot topic of conversation has switched as of late. While recent flooding has left the community with much to contemplate, another issue is sizzling to the forefront. Whats behind all the ruckus is the proposed route that would connect Spring Valley to the Root River State Trail.

It all really started back in 1993, when Spring Valley signed up, along with Chatfield, Fountain, Wykoff, Preston and Ostrander, to develop a joint agreement for developing trails connecting these cities to the existing Root River State Trail and towns such as Lanesboro, Rushford and Houston. The connection, as outlined in the plans, would also head south to Ostrander and LeRoy, eventually connecting up with Mower Countys trail system. Representatives from each of the communities were selected to represent their interests on a committee, which has become known as the Joint Powers Board.

While the Joint Powers Board has been successful in obtaining options to purchase land from some local landowners, a group of concerned farmers from Spring Valley and Wykoff are digging in their heels and refusing to sell. Their beef is not only with the Joint Powers Board, but with Spring Valley City leaders, who they say refuse to hear their concerns.

At the crux of all the fuss is a portion of land thats needed to connect Spring Valleys existing in-town trail to the City Farm, a parcel of land about two miles east of town. The city-owned acreage is slated for a campground and recreational area to accommodate future trail users. That, in itself, is causing neighboring landowners concern, but worse is the threat of condemnation of their land for not agreeing to allow trails on their property. Condemnation is a legal practice that has taken place throughout the county, but to the group of Spring Valley/Wykoff landowners its an ugly word that is pitting neighbor against neighbor and town folk against farmer.
One side of the story

"Weve lived, raised our family and farmed in Spring Valley for 45 years," said Ruth Kaster, who along with husband, Floyd, operates a large family farm, just on the edge of town. The Kasters are one of the two so-called "hold-outs" and have refused to sell a parcel that would provide an essential link to whats currently planned for Spring Valleys trail system.

While the Kasters admit that very little of their land would be affected if the city decided to proceed with condemnation, they feel their farming practices may be compromised with a public trail so close.

"We just dont want to farm next to a bike trail," Floyd said. "We like Spring Valley, just not enough to have a trail."

The Kasters are also looking out for fellow farmers like Harlan Schmidt, a 42-year farming veteran. A nearly one and a half mile stretch of trail will split 1,200 acres of his farmland, according to Schmidt.

"Its not so much the amount of land as just the principle of the thing," said Schmidt.

"Its just not right to come in and do this to anybody," added Mitch Lentz, another neighbor who worries about his ability to maintain his familys privacy, a serene hunting and fishing environment and livestock management on the land hes farmed for 17 years.

Lentz is among those who recently gathered in the Kaster living room to tell their side of the story. Sitting stoically around a large oblong table were the Kasters, Schmidt, Bruce and Janet Welch, Craig Forland and, perhaps the most outspoken of the group, Warren Freeman, the second of the land hold-outs.

Freeman, who has lived, worked and farmed in Spring Valley for 76 years began the emotionally charged dialog. Freeman expressed a general mistrust for those in public office and said that he felt the town was turning its back on landowners and their concerns.

"The people in this room represent three townships Bloomfield, Spring Valley and Fillmore," explained Freeman.

Ironically, all three township boards passed resolutions restricting or opposing recreational trails, according to the group. Even with these official documents in hand and a 150-signature petition opposing trails in their hip pocket, the farmers are angered because they feel they are being ignored by city officials.

"The city says that only two people wont negotiate with them," said Janet Welch who has farmed in the area since 1964, "but its a one-way negotiation. The farmer gives up land, but the city offers nothing in return."

The group is also wary of what could happen to their land once in the hands of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). "I dont need any more feedback telling me how I should be doing things on my own land," Lentz said.

"Rural people dont want to deal with the DNR," Floyd Kaster added.

Craig Forland, who lives south of town just off Highway 63, feels hes being hit with a double whammy. When the Minnesota Department of Transportation widened Highway 63 a few years back, the Forlands lost a piece of their country acreage, which has affected their picturesque rural setting. "Were out in the country for a reason," said Forland, who worries what may happen to his privacy if the proposed trail passes through what remains of the land east of his home. "Im not sure anyone would want a trail 50 feet out their front door," said Forland.

The Spring Valley/Wykoff landowner group has become increasingly organized and some have hired their own attorneys. "Its not just this group here that has an issue with the trails," Lentz said. Trail opposition is apparently much more widespread. Since the group says that its not being heard, they feel they have no other choice but to hit the city where it hurts most in the pocketbook.
Several of the groups members have already pulled their business from various establishments in town and others are planning an organized boycott should land condemnation proceed.

"How many bikers have to come to town to use the trails to make up for one $280,000 dollar combine," asked Bruce Welch.

The idea of the boycott has gotten the attention of city leaders. The city sent a letter on June 13 to all Spring Valley business owners asking opinions as to whether the city council should proceed with condemnation in light of boycott threats, or whether they should abandon the regional trail system all together.

To some, a boycott is of little consequence, but most business owners contacted were not that confident and were reluctant to be quoted. "I dont like to be bullied," said one local shop owner. Another up the street is more worried about the impact a boycott could have on business.

While not everyone in the opposition group agrees that a boycott is the answer, most feel they are left with no other choice. "Nobody really wants to do this," Lentz said. "Were just preparing for what we dont want to happen."

And on the other side of the fence
A TRIO OF AVID CYCLISTS FROM SPRING VALLEY head out of town towards Ostrander, taking advantage of there being no traffic on the road due to bridge repair. Pictured here are Ben (L) and Jerry Cleveland and Stafford Hansen. According to Jerry, the Spring Valley trail system is twenty years overdue. Photo By Carol Thouin

Its hard to argue that in the past couple of years, the City of Spring Valley has experienced a renaissance of sorts. The floods of 1999 and 2000 had a galvanizing effect on community volunteerism. Much of the downtown area has been revitalized and historically restored and the fund-raising efforts for the towns new library have surpassed many hopes and dreams. The city has a lot to be proud of, no doubt.

Yet, a dark cloud loo

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