Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Highland City Work Session: Dry Creek & Bull River Trail Issues

About 20 residents from the Dry Creek and Bull River neighborhoods met with council members, the mayor, and city staff to discuss issues with the Dry Creek/Bull River trail (a portion which was closed last fall).

2015-02-10 Bull River-Dry Creek Trail

In September of last year the council agreed to close the east/west portion of the trail (on the bottom of the map above) until it could determine the best course of action to deal with the fact the trail on that segment was built off the easement and on at least two home owners private property. The east-west portion of the trail is a neighborhood option trail which at the request of the neighborhood can be removed.

What we learned at the meeting was that north-south leg of the trail was also constructed on private property. The city subsequently had a survey done for this portion of the trail which shows that the trail encroaches on the land of 11 home owners. In addition to stealing their land this also creates a liability issue for those residents.

2015-02 Bull River Trail Survey

You might ask how is it possible that this trail was constructed on private property rather than in the designated easement. I did. There is really no good answer. More than one person had to have dropped the ball. It is easy to understand why the trail was built where it was. It was less costly. Who is at fault? Well the developer built the trail but the city signed off on the project. So my opinion is that the city now owns the problem. But when I say city I don’t just mean city staff and/or elected officials I mean all of us. Most of the city’s money comes from us and this problem will cost money to fix. Money that will not be able to be used elsewhere.

To provide a frame of reference for costs here is what was spent in 2013-2014 on:

  • Streets and Roads – $625,555
  • Parks & Recreation – $322,264
  • Open Space – $339,570 (30% to 45% of Open Space expenses are paid for out of the General Fund).

Here are the options as I see it:

  1. Purchase a new easement from the affected residents. At least one of the owners feels an easement on their land is worth $50,000. Hmmm $50,000 * 11 (two of the encroachments are very minimal) = $550,000. Assuming we could purchase an easement for 50% of that price that is still $275,000. This of course assumes that all residents would be willing to sell and that is not a given.
  2. Relocate the trail onto the existing easement. In some cases this would be rather difficult (translated costly) as it would need to be constructed on a significant slope. We also aren’t sure that a new trail would need to be as wide or be a paved trail.
  3. Close the trail. This would be the least costly but would involve removing large portions of it.

At present we don’t have solid estimated for any of the options. We did have one estimate to relocate the east-west portion of the trail which was $100,000+.

One of the residents asked a very good question. If you relocate the trail or purchase an easement will you (we) spend or do you (we) have the money to maintain it?

The mayor took a straw poll at the end of the meeting. Here are the results:

  • In favor of removing the trail – 8
  • In favor of keeping the trial – 7
  • Interested in making it a private trail – 3

If you have any thoughts or suggestions please share them as comments on this post or email them to the city council and/or mayor. Remember the trail was built on private property so the owners have to be part of the solution.


  1. Our family loves this trail. We often walk or ride our bikes here. It would be an absolute shame to see it go. Highland is expanding and growing. This trail keeps the mountains and nature close by.

    1. Thanks for your comment. Any thoughts on how to deal with the issue of the trail bei g on someone's property?

  2. I understand that there is no easy answer. Too bad the city cannot hold the developer responsible (?). I think the best option would be to make an adjustment in the easement. If liability is truly an issue (for most homeowners), then that should be satisfactory for all. Unfortunately, I'm sure you have homeowners who want the city to pay for its mistake and who wouldn't mind extra $$ (money the city doesn't have). With drainage and slope issues that land in question is unusable. All homeowners affected knew there was trail on their property when they made the purchase. I don't know that moving the trail is necessarily the answer either. First, Highland City is poor. Second, moving the trail could meet eliminating trees and oak brush, which would affect the look and feel of the area, something I'm sure the homeowners would be against as well. Keeping the trail as is, with an agreed adjustment to the easement is the best option. My plea is to the city and to homeowners. Please keep the trail for the benefit to the community.

  3. Thanks again. Unfortunately because the city signed off on the work the developer is off the hook. We did ask the city attorney to see if there was any liability on the part of the developer but did not get an affirmative answer. Moving the north/south trail would do exactly what you said. Moving the east-west trail onto the easement, because of the steepness of the slope almost means putting it in the air.

  4. That's a tough one. I enjoy the trail but the concerns are valid. I would feel a bit cheated if the trails were done away with but I can understand the owners don't want the liability. In a perfect world, move the trail, improve it, maintain it...I'd like to see a complete breakdown of money in/out for Highland City just to see how painful this expense would be.

  5. Melissa ... good comment and questions. I have several to budget spreadsheets (I am glad you're interested). These are Google spreadsheets with several tabs. There is usually a summary sheet, sheet with charts, and a raw data sheet.

    1) Last years final budget sheet with previous year actual information: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/11qluHku6r0a8qZ4Ef3sW7-ErvFBSnmCEtLcPTeu2zwg/edit?usp=sharing

    2) Dec 2014 YTD budget information: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1wcGVIToA5bCX7KvhPpfbOYN_n8vE8L0-tyDIZGU8tsU/edit?usp=sharing

    3) 2015 mid-year budget recommendations which are currently under discussion and should be finalized at the next council meeting (Feb 17): https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1F9wsk8KPEbAUNTjxOdmSNwQE1_GxDlvBs_p5GGt1I1E/edit?usp=sharing

    If you have any questions feel free to contact me directly.

  6. Rod - what number can i call you at, or please call me at 801-602-9332. Too much to discuss here in a comment board,
    Corey Freeze

  7. Mr Mann, I think we should keep the trail because it's the right thing to do. We all live in Highland to feel like we can enjoy nature in our backyards. If we give up today what we want for tomorrow we will all regret it. Please don't throw up your hands and act like there's nothing we can do or make this too hard to accomplish. We're all smart people and we can find a way to do it. Please think about everyone in Highland and find a way to make this right. Highland is a wonderful community and if we give up on these things now it will eventually be nothing like we think it will be. It is not a simple issue but it is not impossible. There has to be give and take for everyone. A community effort to save this beautiful trail would benefit everyone. Overcoming obstacles is stimulating, glorious and empowering. Don't be the engine who said I can't. These easements affect me but I am willing to do what I can to make this happen so that we can come up with a plan that we can all live with in the future.

  8. Thanks for your feedback. Unfortunately, at this point a significant portion of the trail belongs to the residents who own the property on which it was improperly built. I don't think it would be fair to put undo pressure on them one way or another for a problem they did not create. It is their property. However any suggestions you might have on how to resolve this would be appreciated.

  9. Rod,

    Thanks so much for addressing this difficult issue. It has been ignored for far too long. I suppose that has been the easiest thing to do when you consider the challenges involved.

    This is not a question of whether or not the trail is worthwhile, used or appreciated.

    I think the question we all need to answer is this:

    How much am I willing to pay personally to fix the problem?

    Payment to fix the problem could mean giving something up like scheduled road maintenance or repairs. Or perhaps giving up a city service or selling a community asset. Or it could be higher property taxes.

    It reminds me of a family member who had a beloved dog which had become progressively more sick. They took it to the vet and x-rays showed it had a penny in its stomach. The dog was dying of zinc poisoning. They wanted to do whatever they could to save the dog. However, when they found out how much it was going to cost and that it may not save their dog anyway, they decided euthanasia was the best option.

    Personally, I would not be willing to pay higher property taxes to pay for the fix. As one of the homeowners whose property this trail crosses, I already pay property taxes on the easement. I do so gladly. It is has been my gift to the community I love for nearly a decade. However, additional taxes would be a burden I could not reconcile for an obvious luxury.

    What would I be willing to part with to fix this trail? Would I be willing to sell off one of the city parks to a developer to raise the funds? No. And I doubt people in another neighborhood would volunteer theirs for a trail in mine. What about eliminating the library? Possibly. But it seems like more people benefit from the library than I do from the trail. Or, perhaps there is some other valuable asset we own as a city that no one would mind selling. I'm not sure what that would be.

    Some problems - like a sick pet - just do not have a happy solution. I, like others, have enjoyed this trail. Losing it would be sad. However, if the fix is going to cost more than the entire annual budget for roads, euthanasia might just be the best option.

    Kind Regards,

    Harold Glade

    1. Excellent points Harold! Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts.

  10. The northwest corner of our property touches the intersection of the city trail where the westernmost "No Trespassing" sign is currently placed. (We can actually see it from our backyard.) We purchased this property almost 3 years ago because of the "wild" open space behind our home and the access to this beautiful trail system, so we do have a vested interest in the outcome. I'm not completely aware of the issues involved for the home owners, so I have some questions as well as possible solutions.

    My questions are: what are the biggest concerns for the homeowners? Liability? Privacy? Money? Are the concerns the same for all the homeowners in question? It would seem that if we are going to close these sections of the trail for the homeowners, we ought to have reasonable reasons based on their reasonable concerns. If it's a matter of liability (since it is technically their property), is it unreasonable in place of the "No Trespassing" signs to put up at sign that says "Use this trail at your own risk, etc." which would absolve the homeowners from any liability? (Much like you see "swim at your own risk" signs where there is no lifeguard.) If the issue is privacy, I agree with Jenny that all the homeowners knew there was a trail behind their home when they purchased it, and personally, I think having a quiet, beautiful city trail in your backyard is desirable! If the issue is money (I'm guessing this is the biggest), then my question is why do we have to maintain these trails at all? They are in good enough condition as is, in my opinion. Even the worst part of the trail where the Curtis's basketball court spills over onto the trail (directly behind our home) is still easily walked/biked if you are using the least bit of caution in my experience. Most people don't go hiking/walking on nature trails expecting it to be like walking in the mall. No one goes hiking in the mountains expecting it to be immaculately maintained. Why can't we just leave the trails alone? As far as I can tell, none of the land that the trail is on would be usable for the homeowners anyway (they've all already done their landscaping), so why not just let them be and stop worrying about the cost? And even if everyone agreed that a minimal maintenance cost was needed, could we not set up some sort of private funding for those who love the trail so much to take care of it privately? Perhaps an "Adopt a Trail" program or something to that effect? Like Vickie, I'm sure we can come up with more than one good solution to this issue.

    My concerns are similar to many of those who have already commented. One of the big reasons Highland is such a wonderful place to live is because of the open space and trail systems. Not only is it great for quality of life for our residents, but I believe it keeps our home prices up as other communities continue to overbuild and feel congested. Our own community is even starting to feel a little crowded, so it would be such a shame to lose any of these trails. More specifically, to close the small section of the trail behind our home that is currently flanked by "No Trespassing" signs effectively closes off the rest of the beautiful loop. If someone comes down the long and beautiful section of trail behind the homes on the south end of Sunset Hills and then runs into this "No Trespassing" sign, they have to then backtrack rather than loop around as the original trail was intended. Such a frustrating shame! And to close the section of trail behind the home on the north end of Sunset Hills would eliminate a major thoroughfare for kids who are walking home from school. Both of these trail sections in question are heavily used by local residents and would be greatly missed if they were closed down for good. Let's continue to think this through and keep the dialogue open and respectful before we make any long-term decisions that may have unintended consequences.

    1. Good points Allyson. With respect to liability I don't know that by posting a sign you remove the legal liability. I don't believe so but I will ask our city attorney ey at the next meeting. It is frustrating for me because this could have all been avoided if more attention had been paid. However, we are where we are and we now have to move forward. City staff is looking at whether we can do a gravel trail (that would reduce the cost of re-routing part of the trail. One challenge on the east-west portion is the steepness of the slope where the actual easement is. Even if we do close the trail for a while the easement will still be there. For me it comes down to a property rights issue. I don't believe the property owners have a requirement to justify any position they hold. Yes the trail adds value and is used so finding a way to keep it would be good. However, I don't see any solution that won't cost something. As of the moment we still really don't know what the actual costs will be. As I mentioned staff is working on the options and costs. Once we have them then we can make a decision.


Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts regarding this post.