In 2004, the Clay Community Parks Association (CCPA), under the supervision of current CCPA board member Wilmadean Schepper (Baker), applied for a grant of both state and federal funds to convert a former railway line into a walking track in Craig Park.
The program states, "This trail will provide needed exercise and improved access to the lake, including improved access for fishing. The trail will connect to an already existing cross country route in Craig Park used by Northview High School. It will also enable the City of Brazil to utilize and finalize abandoned railroad spur on the south side of Craig Park Lake."
The city received $150,000 from the government, and the CCPA raised a $38,500 match to help implement the 3,682-foot long and 10-foot wide track.
Since receiving the money, CCPA board members have worked hard to complete all the necessary requirements to install the recreational project, including conducting surveys, studies and working with the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM), Hannum, Wagle and Cline Engineering, CSX Real Property and Myers Engineering, as well as other community members and organizations.
However, parks association officials said the one thing they neglected to do was have the land surveyed before applying for the grant and moving forward with the project, which is currently causing a property dispute.
According to CCPA President Jim Thompson, the city assumed that the property in question belonged to them, and they didn't find out until later that it may or may not.
Thompson added the residents were notified of the issue and asked to sign easements to allow the city to use the property.
"Out of the four pieces of property in question, no one had a problem with the trail being built in the beginning," Thompson said. "Two have already signed easements, but two have changed their minds."
But property owner Dick Hay said Thompson's statements are false.
"It never happened. No one ever came here to speak with me until after they'd already received the grant," Hay said. "They got the grant and realized they didn't own the land. Then, they asked to build a road that no one will use."
Hay added there are much better ways to use the taxpayer dollars.
"It's tax money for building on a property they don't own when they could be using that money to fix the sidewalks, stoplights, road signs and other things that could beautify Brazil," Hay said. "The high school already has a nice track, and the trail is just going to end up having cars drive through. They could do other things with the money to attract people to Brazil."
His issue with the implementation of the walking trail is not security or people looking into his windows, as said by CCPA Secretary Julie Parsons in her Letter to the Editor published in the Dec. 11 issue of The Brazil Times, but proper use of Clay County taxpayer money.
"There are more important things they can do to bring people to Brazil and Clay County. People have been walking up and down the trail for years," Hay said. "I asked them, 'Who is going to maintain the track?' and they said it will maintain itself. Then, I asked, 'Who is going to pick up the trash and clean up around there?' and they said, it will be the property owners responsibility."
But Thompson said parks association members have tried to accommodate the requests of the property owners.
"We've been trying to be like a good neighbor and give them whatever they've asked for," Thompson said. "They asked for lights, a fence and painting the graffiti on the building, and we've agreed to all of that."
Schepper (Baker) said she thinks the problem stems from a misunderstanding.
"I just don't think the property owners get what we are trying to do and how long we've been trying to do it," she said. "We just want to make a nice park out of the area there."
There are also other possible miscommunications involved.
For example, following the last Brazil Parks and Recreation Board meeting, a separate entity from the CCPA, Park Superintendent Bill Houck told The Brazil Times that the project includes two foot bridges, with one being close to the entrance of Craig Park.
"The only thing the park board did was to give the parks association permission to use Craig Park," Brazil Parks and Recreation President Ruthann Jeffries said.
However, Brazil property owner Helen Meunier-Short said there is no bridge across the dam to complete the circle, but Thompson said the plans may include a dirt "bridge" with railings to allow patrons passage across the lake.
"They started this project a long time ago, but didn't meet with us until April 2011," Meunier-Short said. "They shouldn't have gotten money for a project that involved using property they didn't own. They have worked five years, and didn't own the land."
Houck also said the trail would be asphalt, but the residents said they were told different.
"It's nothing more than a gravel-packed dead end to access the wetlands," Meunier-Short said.
Currently, the walking trail plans only include a track that goes around the lake, but does not complete a full circle.
DNR told parks association officials they cannot implement a bridge over the dam in Craig Park, thus there are two phases to the project.
The second phase involves applying another government grant to extend the track downstream west of the dam, which would make the track a connected "circle" with no break in the trail.
"Right now, phase two doesn't exist yet because we haven't finished the first project yet, but we'd be more than happy to show them our plans when we get there," Thompson said.
The property owners said they worry the project may decrease their property values because of the easements, as well as their standards of living.
"We took great consideration in choosing the place where we were going to grow old, and having our private back yard was one of the reasons we chose this house," Meunier-Short said. "We aren't stopping anyone else from enjoying that lake, but they can do it on the other side."
She added there have already been problems with people trespassing on residents' property.
"In reference to the article about the dog getting caught on the trap, she admitted she'd been going back there for years," Meunier-Short said. "So, she's been trespassing for years."
The CCPA has contracted Myers Engineering to conduct a survey "sometime in January."
"We weren't trying to make any of the neighbors mad or anything," Thompson said. "We are in the process of surveying the area around the park. We'd like to know what we have available, especially concerning the southern boundary lines."