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Private property rights, public-access interests overlap on popular Auburn trail

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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New signs and fence posts on a privately held parcel skirting the edge of the Auburn State Recreation Area have some hikers concerned that they could soon be seeing trails blocked off. And while the Auburn property owner has put up signs indicating there are no plans to fence off the popular Cardiac Trail or deny access to a trail alongside the Boardman Canal, hikers like Mark Hopp say they’re still concerned. The Cardiac Trail swings in and out of property owned by Blackstone Court resident Len Ganz. Ganz declined to be interviewed on the trail issue but Hopp said that in a conversation with him this week, the property owner said there were no plans to close off either of the trails. “But I’m still concerned,” Hopp said. “He said that trails can be a legal liability. It’s hard for me to believe him and I’ll be watching to see what happens.” Ganz bought two, narrow 20-acre lots a year ago that cover an area that comes close to the river at the bottom of the American River canyon. The lots are part of a four-lot subdivision created in the 1990s from an 80-acre parcel bordered by the Auburn State Recreation Area on one side and the Folsom State Recreation Area on the other. Signs have recently been put up by Ganz stating “Property line being marked. Cardiac Trail NOT being blocked off. Relax. Enjoy” Others say “Private Property – Auburn State Recreational Area ends here.” A hiker and nearby resident, Hopp said he always thought the property below the Boardman Canal was on federal land and now that he finds it’s privately owned, it’s jarring – especially with the signs going up. Another concerned hiker, Auburn’s Keith Kenworthy, has been hiking the area where the property is for 22 years and said he would hate to see the trails blocked off. “Putting up a fence would seem spiteful to me,” Kenworthy said. Kenworthy said he’s wondering if some kind of trail easement exists that would guarantee routes popular with hikers, runners and horse riders stay open. “If it were mine, I would encourage people to enjoy it,” Kenworthy said. Gordon Ainsleigh, a Meadow Vista distance runner familiar with Cardiac Trail, said his own experiences trying to keep a trail open to the public on private land were costly and, in the end unsuccessful. Ainsleigh’s case pitting him against a Meadow Vista property owner was heard in Placer County Superior Court a decade ago. Ainsleigh cited a prescriptive easement in his arguments before a judge. Ainsleigh, an Auburn Recreation District board member, said he had three lawyers say “yes” but the court ruled against him. He still thinks the judge was wrong. Ainsleigh said he thought he was moving forward on a case that would be on behalf of all runners but then found out that it would only keep it open for him. Then the costs started to add up. The court fight cost about $20,000, said Ainsleigh. The prescriptive easement argument is contingent on three factors, he said. The trail would have to be used without the express permission of the property owner. But it would have to be used in a way that the owner would have known it existed. And it would have to be in use and known to the owner for at least five years, he said. Ainsleigh said the “win-win” for trail users on Cardiac would be to develop a new alignment for the trail that follows the property line outside the Ganz boundary. Protect American River Canyons is also looking into what the public’s rights are and what can be done to potentially stave off a closed trail. Eric Peach, PARC conservation chairman, said that in discussions with Ganz, he has been told the property owner is establishing a boundary line with fence posts but didn’t plan to put up a fence. “But he also said that if he had to, he was prepared,” Peach said. Ganz seemed interested in having the Cardiac Trail moved off his property but when asked whether he would commit to the expense of doing that, he was non-committal, Peach said. “We’ll wait to see what his next move is,” Peach said.