The world around us is changing. Large tracts of open land are rapidly disappearing. Fear of liability lawsuits limits public access. The “handshake agreement” that has kept trails open for generations is no longer enough to protect our trails.
In the six towns in which we work, there are over 450 miles of trails, both public and private. But that is not what makes the trails in this area so special. What is impressive about that figure is the tremendous amount of interconnectivity within our trail network. But what happens when one landowner in a trail network closes off a trail? In some cases, it means diverting to a busy road. In other cases the trail is completely cut off and suddenly your 8-mile loop becomes two dead-ends. While agreements and licenses offer some protection, generally these are revocable and/or limited to a particular duration of time. The only way to ensure continued public access is with a formal trail easement.
So what exactly is a trail easement?
That all sounds great for the trail users. But is there a benefit to the landowner?
There are, however, a few serious issues to consider before granting a trail easement. In a sense, yes, the landowner is losing some of the privacy on their property. In most cases, trails can be located, designed, and maintained to provide continued privacy to private landowners. The landowner may even benefit from improvements to their property, such as trail resurfacing or bridge construction.
A trail easement does not prevent the landowner from future development or subdivision opportunities permitted for their property. The trail can be relocated within reason as needed, as long as it maintains the connectivity and characteristics of the original trail. The trail can also be closed for short-term circumstances such as private events, nearby construction or poor trail conditions. We make every effort to work with landowners to ensure that the experience of open trails is positive for all involved.
What does the trail easement process entail?
What can I do to help protect public access to our trail network?
If you are a trail user, the most important thing that you can do to ensure public access is to RESPECT OUR LANDOWNERS. Whether the landowner is the Town, the State, a land trust or a private individual, it is essential to recognize that it is a privilege, not a right, to be granted access to trails. There are rules and regulations at almost all of the properties in our area – please adhere to this information as well as any posted signs for trail closures or limitations. If someone informs you that you are not permitted on the trail, please do as they ask.
If you have any questions or feel the information is not correct, call or email ECTA and we will look into your concerns. One negative experience for a landowner can prevent a possible easement or cause them to permanently close off a trail. “Courtesy costs nothing, the lack of it costs you a trail.”
If you are a landowner, we hope that you will consider the gift of a trail easement. Contact the ECTA office at 978-468-1133 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will set up a meeting to discuss the possibility of a trail easement on your property.