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Mercer County Cracking Down on Private Airstrips

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Jerry Young has lived and worked this farm in rural Viola almost as long as he can remember. He's a retired pilot, having flown thousands of hours in a crop-duster, many of his jobs started right here on his personal landing strip on the edge of his farm.

"There was a time when I flew to work every day for one year,” says Young.

It may not look like much, but this field of thistles is a restricted landing area. Jerry Young's father had it registered with the state and the FAA since the late forties. But last month Young got a letter from the Mercer County Assessor's Office saying his property wasn't zoned for an airfield and he'd have to shut it down.

"I had no idea what was going on. We'll just go down and take care of it,” says Young.

When Young went to figure out what was going on, he says it was like walking into to a trap.

"When I hit the door it was 'here's the man with the illegal airport,' and it just went downhill from there,” says Young.

The elderly pilot says he was badgered and threatened with jail time if he didn't shut things down and have the strip removed from the FAA records. 

"'If they catch an airplane on it you'll be arrested.' On what grounds? That wasn't discussed,” says Young.

Ironically, Jerry Young has thought about closing down the airstrip in years past. But now with this recent string of events he's fighting to keep it open.

"It says on the thing that they will work with you on a variance in the zoning. But she also said 'bring your lawyer and lots of money and you're not going to get it.' Lord I flew off it for 60 years. What's changed?” asks Young rhetorically.

He argues should be grandfathered in because his landing strip pre-dates any zoning ordinances in Mercer County.

He's not sure whether-or-not he'll be successful, but he plans to fight on regardless of any outcome.

"Now it's a matter of principle,” says Young.

Next week Young and Mercer County’s two other private landing strip owners plan to plead their case before the Mercer County Board.