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'Garden Fairy' told to stop volunteer work or face legal consequences

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 4 2012 2:56 p.m. MST

Cathy Rae has volunteered time and money for nearly 10 years to make a city trail near her home in River Heights, Cache County, beautiful. The city recently told her to stop working on the trail or face a legal action. On Monday, Dec. 3, 2012, she said her work on the trail was a way to take pride in her neighborhood.

Mike Anderson, Deseret News

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RIVER HEIGHTS, Cache County — Cathy Rae can’t begin to count the hours and money she has spent on a trail next to her house — not just walking it, but landscaping and maintaining it.

Yet in October, the woman some have called the “Garden Fairy” was told she had to stop her volunteer work, or she would be cited for vandalism or even sent to jail.

The trail at the center of the controversy is almost next door to Rae’s home. Several years back, she received an outstanding citizen award honoring her for her efforts to beautify the nature walk.

Rae has spent nearly a decade improving the trail. 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, the River Heights City Council ordered her to stop, saying she went beyond caring for the stretch of trail near her home. The action irritated neighbors.

"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.

Rae believes she has been very respectful of her neighbors and of adjoining city property.

City leaders said they didn't have many options. Councilman Rich Okelberry said 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," Okelberry said.

Just like the strip of grass many people have in front of their homes, this trail becomes the frontage of that neighbor's property, he said. 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," Okelberry said.

The issue isn't whether Rae's work here is causing erosion or not, he said, but whether the city can't afford to go to court over it. 

Rae is hurt by the situation. 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."

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