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New trail law protects neighboring property owners

By TRAVIS WEIK - tweik@thecouriertimes.com

Henry County’s Raintree Trail System provides the community and visitors with easy access to scenic vistas and more outdoor places to exercise.

A new state law, House Enrolled Act 1115, went into effect July 1 to help ease liability concerns for people living alongside these trails and other similar greenways around the state.

Even before HEA 1115 took hold, Indiana law already provided liability protection to property owners who lived near natural campsites or hiking destinations.

Sometimes, people cross private property in order to get to a natural attraction, like a pond or a cave.

The concern is that a sightseer might get hurt while crossing that stretch of private property and sue the landowner.

Indiana Code 14-22-10-2 essentially reads “Enter at your own risk,” specifically stating that anyone headed to an outdoor tourist attraction, whether they pay to access it or not, “does not have an assurance that the premises are safe for the purpose.”

This provision helps relieve some of the anxiety neighbors might have about all the folks coming to the area to enjoy the great outdoors.

House Enrolled Act 1115, “Landowner immunity for trail access,” expands that protection to areas bordering trails, greenways and other similar corridors.

Local legislators State Representative Tom Saunders (R-Lewisville) and State Senator Jean Leising (R-Oldenburg) voted in favor of HEA 1115. Governor Eric Holcomb signed HEA 1115 into law March 8, and it officially took effect July 1.

Trails in Henry County generally have clearly-marked designated areas where bikers, joggers and walkers can easily get onto or exit the trail.

Many of these trails follow former railroad right of ways through farmland and sparsely populated parts of the county. That lowers the chances of someone hopping onto, say, the Wilbur Wright Trail, someplace other than the trailheads.

As communities like the City of New Castle continue to move forward with their bike/pedestrian plans, cultural trails are expected to pop up in more densely-populated areas.

Two such trails include the planned paths along Cherrywood Avenue and Washington Street. It will be easier for people to get on or off these trails without going all the way to the end.

The new trail access law is designed to create a layer of insulation around property owners near those trails who could soon have more bicyclists and outdoorsy types crossing their parking lots or sidewalks.

Indiana law also gives property owners the option to have fences put up between their land and the trails.

According to Indiana Code 8-4.5-6-6, whoever is responsible for a particular recreational trail, even if that is a government entity, has to put up a fence if one of the neighboring property owners asks them to.

Besides stopping folks from looking in windows while they job, fences along recreational trails could also decrease the chances that someone might leave the trail early and get onto private property.

The Indiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR) encourages trail managers and neighbors to communicate and understand each other’s concerns regarding trail issues.

DNR also warns trail users to stay on the marked trail and do not trespass onto private property.

For more trail etiquette tips, check out the DNR article “Share The Trail” at www.in.gov/dnr/outdoor/8529.htm.