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Plainfield Officials Will Try Harder to Stop Trail Maintenance

Plainfield — Town officials admitted they have done an inadequate job in helping an owner stop people from maintaining the public trails on her property that are under a conservation easement, but they will try harder.

At a public hearing Wednesday night, the Selectboard promised to erect signs educating the public that it is illegal to do trail maintenance on a privately-owned 104-acre parcel with a conservation easement.

“We need to get signs out there,” said Town Administrator Steve Halleran. “We have not done a good job.

“We get it. No more maintenance,” he told George Sandmann, who lives on the property and said he was representing the owner, Jennifer Lesser. Lesser no longer lives on the property and is trying to sell the land and house.

Sandmann, infuriated by continual violations of his demand for trail maintenance to end, explained in detail some of what has gone on during the last few years and said never once has he threatened anyone.

“But we have received threats of physical violence,” Sandmann said. “I’m shocked by what you people are doing to us.

“If it were you, you would be just as angry.”

Sandmann emphasized he is not trying, nor ever has tried, to violate terms of the conservation easement, which allows anyone, including hunters, to walk the property and also permits the use of one trail by hikers. But he said, and town officials agreed, he has the right to ban mountain bikes and prohibit maintenance on several other trails.

Sandmann said 37 laminated signs telling people not to maintain the trails have been removed or defaced. He showed one photo of people clearing a trail in plain view of one sign.

“We are not the bad guys,” Sandmann said, urging everyone to get a copy of the easement and read what is required.

Halleran told Sandmann the town has “messed this up pretty badly.

“We have signs to buy,” he said.

Several residents, along with Police Chief Paul Roberts, agreed that signs explaining what is allowed is better than no trespassing signs or posting the property — which could violate the easement and keep away those who use it within its parameters.

Board chairman Rob Taylor said it is the Selectboard’s intent to make permitted uses of the property more clear with signs and blazes.

At the beginning of the hearing, Roberts said the situation appears to be escalating and getting worse.

“Let’s stop before somebody gets hurt,” said Roberts. “Let’s try education: What we expect and what the owners expect.”

Roberts gave an example where someone may innocently move a tree branch or log off a trail in violation of the owner’s desire to have no maintenance.

“They will say ‘I didn’t know. I thought I was doing a good thing,’ ” said Roberts, who opposes prosecution.

“I don’t think it is the avenue to go. You can’t charge someone if you haven’t told them what is expected.”

John Taylor with the Upper Valley Trails Alliance said signage to prevent inappropriate use of the property is the most logical avenue to pursue.

“The trails alliance believes education is the key, not just putting up no trespassing signs,” Taylor said.

Resident Glenn Greenough summed up what he believes is the crux of the issue.

“You have rights not to have trail maintenance and the public has rights to access,” he told Sandmann.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at ogrady56@yahoo.com.