MOUNT VERNON — A pair of horse gates that have reportedly been blocking the Heart of Ohio Trail on repeated occasions will be removed, the Knox County Commissioners decided Thursday afternoon. The gates, located on the trail in Liberty Township, were designed to allow a property owner to move his horse or any future livestock housed on his property at 7860 Columbus Road across the trail. Opening the field gates to full extension blocks the path of the Heart of Ohio Trail.
The gates were built with money granted to the county for work on the trail, at a cost of approximately $18,000, after the property owner, Robert Griffith, objected that the old underpass on his property was too filled-in with sediment to serve as a pass-through for his horse or any cattle he might someday house on the property. According to Knox County Commissioner Allen Stockberger, the county offered to dredge the underpass, but Griffith still objected that it would negatively impact his animals.
The gates were constructed after Griffith agreed to three conditions and signed a drawing of the structure on Oct. 29, 2007. The conditions were, first, that no gates or physical trail obstructions would impede or block the trail for more than five minutes at a time. Second, trail users would have the right of way at all times. Third, Knox County Commissioners would have authority to enforce requirements to provide open and available public use of the trail at all times. Griffith signed the drawing in a space immediately following the typed statement, “I understand the above conditions and approve of this drawing.” The document was countersigned by then-Commissioner Thomas C. McLarnan and notarized by Rochelle Shackle.
Kim Marshall, director of the Knox County Parks District, said that since the gates have been in place, she has received notification on a number of occasions that the gates were being left in the open-to-field position, thus blocking the trail. On at least one of those occasions, the gates had allegedly been padlocked with chains into that position.
On Aug. 6, 2008, Knox County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Charles T. McConville sent a cease-and-desist letter to Griffith, cautioning him to abide by the agreement he previously signed, and reminding him that the county reserved the right to enforce open access of the public to the Heart of Ohio Trail.
“If necessary, the commissioners will order the removal of the gates from the property and may authorize this office to take other appropriate legal action,” McConville wrote in the letter. McConville said that Griffith signed for the letter on Aug. 8, 2008, thus acknowledging receipt. Since then, Griffith has not replied to the county prosecutor’s office. Marshall said that since then, the trail was reported to her as being locked and chained on at least one occasion when a trail maintenance worker attempted to pass through, though it has been open at other times.
“We made a good faith effort to cooperate with [Griffith],” Stockberger said. “He signed an agreement and has not complied with the agreement he signed.” The commissioners authorized McConville to send a letter informing Griffith that county workers will be removing the gates, which are county property, on March 2. It will be up to Griffith to build his own fences to contain his animal(s).
The commissioners advised that when maintenance workers are sent to remove the gates, they should be accompanied by a sheriff’s deputy. Marshall said that she would make the arrangements.