The 12.2-mile Pat McGee Trail between Salamanca and Cattaraugus may be purchased in coming months by the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.
And the proposed sale to the state by the Cattaraugus Local Development Corp., a non-profit group formed by Rick LeFeber, a retired businessman from Cattaraugus, has generated some controversy.
Tim Jackson, the Salamanca town supervisor, was involved in the Southern Tier Association of Rails to Trails, or S.T.A.R.T., when the group deeded the former Erie Railroad line to the LeFeber’s CLDC for $1.
Jackson has written letters to elected state officials opposing the sale if the Pat McGee Trail goes for more than that original $1. The Salamanca Town Board also opposes the sale of the trail for more than the $1 S.T.A.R.T. received.
LeFeber told the Times Herald he used his development corporation to buy the trail to assure that the trail would be maintained. Revenue from several right-of-way leases Jackson said he negotiated were to be used to maintain the trail.
Jackson said those leases were recently sold to the leasees by LeFeber for about $50,000.
Jackson said CLDC plans to sell the trail to the state for $250,000. He is asking others who are concerned over the sale to speak up before it is turned over to the state.
Contacted by the Times Herald, LeFeber said he was aware of Jackson’s campaign. He said Jackson was not correct on the proposed amount of the sale. Nor would the sale price go to line his own pockets, LeFeber said.
LeFeber said he, CLDC members and a number of volunteers have been maintaining the trail since it opened 16 years ago.
“I’ve never gotten a paycheck and we have no employees,” only volunteers, he said, adding that some of the money will go to pay back loans.
“Tim thinks I’m going to get rich and retire from the sale,” LeFeber said. “I’m already retired living on a veteran’s pension and Social Security.”
After a serious health scare in 2016, LeFeber, who was then 71, realized he should start looking for a long-term steward for the trail.
He approached former state Sen. Catharine Young of Olean, which led to talks with the officials from State Parks and the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
The state gave CLDC an offer, which was accepted in January. State Parks officials recently reached out to local communities for their reaction to the proposed sale.
LeFeber said he is laying the groundwork for a new generation of CLDC officers.
“I’m setting things up so (it) can have some money to work with for community and economic development,” LeFeber said.
He said, before the sale, he plans to complete about $20,000 worth of work and expects to leave an endowment from the proceeds of the sale that can be used by the state for signs and other trail needs.
The state will be promoting the trail to a wider audience. It is also expected to become part of a statewide trail system connecting state parks.
“They are the logical steward of the trail,” LeFeber said. “No one wanted it. I offered it to the county.”
LeFeber and CLDC are also involved in the Zaepfel Nature Sanctuary and Nature Center in the town of Napoli. It was the former Enchanted Lake development.
Jackson told the Times Herald there are others, including some former S.T.A.R.T. members, who are concerned about the sale if it is for more than $1. “They don’t think it’s right for Rick LeFeber to get all this money for what he paid $1 for.”
Jackson emphasized he didn’t object to the sale of the trail to the state, just the price. He also didn’t think the leases should have been sold, either.
LeFeber had indicated that state officials weren’t interested in the leases, which amounted to several thousand dollars a year. They are likely to become part of an endowment for the trail, he said.