Cache County woman faces legal action for volunteer work
by Mike Anderson â€¢ Dec 03 - 7:45pm
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RIVER HEIGHTS, Cache County - For the past decade, a Cache County woman has donated countless hours of her time landscaping a city trail. But now she's been told to stop her work, or face a lawsuit.
City leaders say Cathy Rae's landscaping could cause them more trouble than good. The trail at the center of the controversy is almost next door to Rae's home. Several years back she even got an outstanding citizen award for her gardening of the nature walk.
That all came to a crashing halt when Rae received a letter that told her to stop her work or face legal action. Rae couldn't begin to count the hours she's spent on the trail, not just walking, but working - putting in plants and trees. "I've done everything you can see here that's constructed," she said.
Rae says spending her time on the River Heights city trail had become an important part of her life, a way for her to take pride in her neighborhood.
"I thought, 'wow, this is something I can give back to the world," she said. "I can leave my mark here."
But last October, she was told to stop, or face jail time. The woman some had called the "Garden Fairy" was no more. She now keeps a tombstone in her front yard.
"As far as I'm concerned, it's a slap in Cathy's face for the work that she has done here for free," said friend Wayne Bachmann.
City leaders say they didn't have many options. Councilman Rich Okelberry says the issue started with a complaint from a neighbor just above the trail.
"We basically have to treat the frontage of this property the same way that we would treat her right of way," he said.
Okelberry says just like the strip of grass many of us have in front of our homes, this trail becomes the frontage of that neighbor's property. He says the same homeowners also argued - through a letter from their attorney -- that Rae's work could cause erosion.
"The way I looked at it is I had to weigh whether we as a city were going to be willing to defend something like that in the future legally, and bear the cost of defending that," said Okelberry.
Rae is hurt by the situation. She says she knows there are other ways to volunteer, but only one trail sits right outside her front door.
"I'd like the neighbors to embrace this," she said. "I'm not hurting anyone."
Councilman Okelberry says the issue isn't whether Rae's work here is causing erosion, just that the city can't afford to go to court over it. Meantime, he says he's hopeful they can find some other way for her to volunteer her time.