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South Dakota group seeks rail-to-trail feasibility study

Tabor to Platte rail trail
Friends of the Tabor to Platte Rail to Trail
A map of the proposed Tabor to Platte Rail-to-Trail project and wider regional network.

A South Dakota nonprofit hopes to commission a feasibility study for a proposed rail-to-trail project but has paused its plan to seek funding for a five-mile demonstration trail.

Friends of the Tabor to Platte Rail to Trail announced its decision on Wednesday during a state Railroad Board meeting.

"We want to address the concerns, the problems, we want to figure out what we need to do to make it a project that can appeal to everybody," said Co-Chair Ron Wagner.

The group previously asked the board and Department of Transportation to create a statement in support of the feasibility study and demonstration trail. It also asked the agencies to cooperate on the full trail if the study and demonstration trail are positive.

But the agencies said it didn't make sense to voice support for the demonstration trail before seeing the results of the feasibility study.

The Rail to Trail group's new plan is to focus on applying for a grant to fund the feasibility study. It said it doesn't need permission or a letter of support from the board or DOT. The group also said it can revisit the demonstration trail in the future.

"I do believe the feasibility study will show in the end that this is a worthwhile venture to pursue," said Pickstown resident Larry Lucas.

Supporters of the trail say it will create recreation opportunities for tourists and locals. They also say it will improve the local economy since trail users will stop to eat or shop in the small towns along the route.

Visitors to Lake Francis Case could bike along the trail while student runners could train on it, Lucas said.

Some landowners and municipal leaders are against the project. They are afraid of liability issues and say the trail will interfere with farm land, cattle pastures and hunting grounds.

Dave Scott, of Geddes, said he's afraid trail users will interfere with cows and their baby calves.

"And if you get too close to that calf that momma cow could end up being just like the buffalo did to the lady in Custer State Park — where she lost her britches. That cow can take you, put you down, it could kill you," Geddes said. "Who's liable then? Is it the rails-to-trails group or the cow-calf guy?"

Scott'scomment referenced a woman who lost her pants and got flung into the air after she got too close to a bison.

Lucas did not address that specific liability issue but said the tail group will have insurance to cover accidents caused by negligent trail conditions. He said motorists, horseback riders, hikers and cyclists can be sued if they fail to follow rules about right-of-way.

Ed Van Gerpen said he and his fellow commissioners in Bon Homme County are against the projects. He said he's afraid the county will be liable if cyclists injure themselves on county roads since many of the roads don't have shoulders.

Lucas said the trail group has decided to keep the path entirely along the railroad rather than using any street roads. Cyclists and runners already use those roads since they are the only existing option, he added.

Arielle Zionts, rural health care correspondent, is based in South Dakota. She primarily covers South Dakota and its neighboring states and tribal nations. Arielle previously worked at South Dakota Public Broadcasting, where she reported on business and economic development.
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