Trail nix II: Blades on Bland

When Bland Circle resident Shirley Presley erected a brush pile across the portion of the Rivanna Trail that crosses the backside of her property last year, she raised the wrath of hikers, bikers, and even her own neighbors. "Property rights," her defenders cried. "Callous and uncivic-minded" went the opposing cry.

Now, a year later, Presley has not relented in her refusal to allow citizens to walk over her land in fact, quite the contrary: She's added 30 feet of gleaming razor wire to the mix, and the City is none too happy about it.

"It's a violation of city code," says Jim Herndon in the City's neighborhood planning department. He cites section 5-152, which states plainly that razor wire (or any other barbed wire) is allowed only on commercial properties, and only at a height of six feet or greater. Violating this section constitutes a Class I misdemeanor, punishable by a $2,500 fine.

Presley's wire, with two-inch razor blades every six inches, is approximately two feet off the ground waist level for a child. It's something that has her fellow Bland Circle residents concerned.

"We don't go down there anymore," says Brynne Potter, one of Presley's trail-friendly neighbors and a mother of two.

While hikers and anyone else who can read would be hard-pressed to claim ignorance of the inherent risk (a huge sign warns "Danger, razor wire"), there are other possible victims of such a tactic.

"I worry about the wildlife that can't read the signs," Potter says.

Stephanie Boyles, a wildlife biologist with PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), is "shocked" by the situation.

"An animal could be mortally wounded if an artery was severed," she says. "What a hideous device."

Presley did not return the Hook's call, and her lawyer, Fred Payne, declines comment: "I haven't spoken with her in months," he says.

Rivanna Trails Foundation president Diana Foster says her organization "did everything Presley asked" to keep people off the portion of the trail that crosses her property. That included pulling all RTF maps and adding detour stickers, printing a fresh run of maps last summer with the Bland Circle portion of the trail excluded, and remarking the trail to direct people away from Presley's property.

The new trail takes hikers from Free Bridge out onto River Road at Lynch Roofing. From there, they must walk up River Road to Locust Avenue, then to Locust Lane and finally to Meghan Circle, where they can pick up the trail once more.

Every portion of the new trail is "fully with permission," Foster says, a fact attributable to the Bland Circle fiasco.

The RTF admitted that it neglected to contact residents along the portion of the trail behind Bland, never asking for owners' permission to lead hikers over that stretch of river bank.

Presley, by law, has the right to prevent people from accessing her land. Last year, her lawyer explained that she was living in fear that vandalism and general misdeeds done on her property without her permission had left her feeling unprotected and vulnerable.

But Potter says Presley's tactics makes her family feel less secure than in the days when people could hike through unimpeded.

"I felt safer on the trail [then] because there was likely to be someone coming by at any time," Potter says.

And now?

"It's a more desirable place to have shenanigans going on," she says.