- The Washington Times - Friday, August 11, 2000

The National Park Service is trying to force a 100-year-old order of Franciscan friars and nuns to relinquish property they own along the New York Appalachian Trail.
The Franciscan Friars of the Atonement are refusing to sell 20 acres of their property, prompting the federal agency to pursue eminent domain proceedings to condemn and seize the land.
Under pressure from Congress, the park service this week agreed to suspend legal action until an Aug. 23 meeting to discuss future use of the property, but remains adamant that the property be "protected" by the federal government from development.
The Park Service wants the property for a buffer zone around the historic trail, which runs through the property in Garrison, N.Y. This would be in addition to 58 acres the Friars ceded to the park service in 1984.
"I find this drastic action against the Friars offensive and inappropriate," said Rep. Sue W. Kelly, New York Republican, who along with Democratic New York Sen. Charles E. Schumer brought pressure on the agency to stop legal proceedings.
"I am seriously concerned with the strong-arm tactics being used by the National Park Service. The fact that the federal government has concluded that this congregation can only be dealt with under the watchful eye of the Justice Department is disturbing," she said.
Rather than purchase the property outright, a Park Service spokeswoman said, the agency now wants to buy an easement on the property to prevent future development of Graymoor, home to 45 friars and 86 nuns.
"At our meeting, we will talk about the next steps in the negotiations. We are not taking land, and we are not buying land; we are buying development rights," said spokeswoman Edie Shean-Hammond.
The friars purchased the 400-acre Graymoor "holy mountain" in 1898 for their ministries, which include a homeless shelter for men.
The Rev. Art Johnson says the property is needed to sustain the friars' "infrastructure to minister to the thousands of men and women who come to Graymoor each year."
"The Park Service's greatest fear is that the friars might sell the land. There should be other ways to address this fear of the Park Service," Mr. Johnson said.
"The friars' greatest fear is that we would not be able to repair, maintain or construct what might be necessary for us to continue to live at Graymoor and provide the ministries we do," he said.
In the 1980s, the Park Service wanted the trail crossing the property moved closer to St. Christopher's Inn and the St. Pius X Friary, and insisted that a 58-acre easement be granted, Mr. Johnson said.
"In the spirit of cooperation," they agreed to the first easement, he said.
The Park Service says the friars have broken the easement agreement by constructing a building that crosses onto the easement, which forced them to begin purchase negotiations to stop future development.
"We want to guarantee protection so the Catholic church would not build on it and hikers would be able to go through the land," Miss Shean-Hammond said.
The friars maintain the infraction was an honest mistake, which extended 10 feet over the easement.
Graymoor welcomes hundreds of trail hikers every year, providing camping areas and free meals. Hikers also are allowed to roam the friars' property and park their cars there for day trips, said Rob Gordon, executive director of the National Wilderness Institute.
"Instead of coveting their neighbor's property, the National Park Service would be far better served by learning how to be a good neighbor with the Franciscans," Mr. Gordon said.

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