Groton hiking trails lawsuit appears to be heading to trial

Groton - A long-pending lawsuit against the town over the hiking trails appearing on private property seems to be inching closer to trial.

The focus of the suit is a series of trails on private property off Route 117 that property owners claim were cleared by the town sometime around 2005, and link to trails used for walking and mountain biking on the 240-acre, town-owned Copp family property.

While the town admits there was no clear boundary line separating private from town property in the area in question, Groton denies it had anything to do with clearing the trails or creating maps indicating there were trails on private land. The town points to evidence that a network of trails has existed in the area since the late 1970s and outside groups created the maps.

Michael Haines, who purchased his North Road property in 2001 and is a plaintiff in the case, said it was 2006 when he noticed missing swaths of mountain laurel and small trees, painted trail markers and wooden trail signs pointing to the cave and natural arch on his property. The trail markers extend onto the Copp property, he said.

"Who created the Copp property trails? Was it marauding band of trail builders?" Haines asked. "This was a concerted effort and quite a large operation. The trail on my property goes through wetlands in the middle of my property in a big oval, cutting down trees and vegetation.

"The town's position is, somebody anonymous did it. They take no responsibility for it," Haines said. "The funny part about it is a large portion of it is on the Copp property. They haven't done anything about it. Why hasn't the town investigated this?"

Haines, along with North Road homeowners Edward Conroy and Bouthanom Senphansiry, filed suit against the town in 2009 claiming it was the town's Parks and Recreation Department that got carried away.

They claim $250,000 in damages.

Attorney James Tallberg, who is representing the town, said he could not discuss details of the case while the suit is pending.

"The town vigorously denies these groundless claims, and we look forward to our day in court," he said.

To back his allegations against the town, Haines hired a land surveyor to confirm the trail was on private property. He also hired KB Analytical, which performed an analysis on the paint on trees and confirmed a match to the paint on town property.

Conroy said his wife purchased the property in 2006 and has been frustrated by the lack of action by the town to address his concerns.

"My first concern was liability. There's a 40-foot sheer drop off back there," Conroy said. "We were hoping it wouldn't go this far. They just don't want to own up to it."

Conroy said the town offered $10,000 to each property owner in a pre-trial mediation session to settle the case, but the property owners did not accept the offer. Conroy said they each have spent more than that fighting the case.

The property owners are now without a lawyer. Attorney Renee Houle recently dropped out of the case. Conroy said she was uncomfortable taking the case forward without an eyewitness.

A representative from the town's Parks and Recreation Department could not be reached for comment Thursday. The next court date is a pretrial conference scheduled for April 26.


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