Dear Warren Buffett:

By Beacon Staff

I read with interest and glee that you’re now the majority owner of Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF). Congratulations on buying a great company – investment wise, I should clarify, because BNSF is a not-so-great company on the public relations front.

Now that you own the railroad, you can change that bad image with one phone call and instantly make your new acquisition – and yourself, of course – a corporate saint out here in Montana.

Like anyone who has ever bought a common stock or mutual fund, I admire all you have done. Even with your many billions, you drive to work in a regular vehicle and live in a regular house and pay yourself a regular salary. You don’t embarrass the country with an eight-figure salary and the greed we see from so many CEOs.

And philanthropically speaking, everybody knows you’re one of the most generous among us. You could buy a country, but instead, you plan to give almost all of your fortune back to society.

So, to continue your strong tradition of philanthropy and to support your corporate sainthood candidacy, I respectfully request that you have a little chat with your new employees at BNSF about an amazing opportunity we have out here under the Big Sky.

Here’s the deal. For years, people in central Montana have been encouraging, if not begging, BNSF to legally abandon (instead of just not use) a 94-mile section of rail line between Great Falls and Helena. It runs along one of the few free-flowing sections of the mighty Missouri River and follows part of the historic route of Lewis and Clark. It’s an exceptionally scenic and accessible section of rail line that we locals hope to turn into the best bike trail ever.

Right now, locally and unofficially, we call it the Corridor of Discovery Trail, but we would gladly call it the Warren Buffett Trail.

The bike trail would not only be an economic godsend to several small, struggling Montana communities and greatly increase property values for landowners along the route, but it would be such a green thing for you to do. I know you and your family have contributed generously to worthy causes such as fighting AIDS, curbing illiteracy, and stopping nuclear proliferation. Well, here’s a chance to do something for worthy causes such as saving a slice of small town America, promoting health and fitness, fighting obesity, reducing our dependence on foreign oil, and helping to curb the virtual pandemic of Nature Deficit Disorder in the so-called “screen generation” so expertly documented by Richard Louv in his best-selling book, “Last Child in the Woods.”

The trouble is, your new employees at BNSF have not only refused to consider our request, but have been playing politics with our sincere intentions. Last year, to emphasize the point, BNSF befouled the scenic corridor by moving in hundreds of rusty, smelly, ugly railcars. BNSF executives could have stored these unneeded railcars anywhere on their system, but they chose the route of the proposed bike trail, perhaps the most scenic section of rail line BNSF controls and definitely one of the most heavily used for outdoor activities.

I wish I could take you down the river in my drift boat so you could see it yourself because you would likely agree with me that this decision was little more than an “up yours” to those of us who have volunteered our own time and money to make this bike trail happen. Many thousands of people float that stretch of river every year. Instead of enjoying the scenery and the fabulous trout fishing, they’re now treated to a full-frontal display of a powerful monopoly’s surplus garbage and political vindictiveness.

I can’t tell you anything about economic development, since you probably invented it, but I can say that in many places where such a bike trail is built, it becomes the lifeblood of a rural economy. I wrote about one such trail, the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes in Idaho, which was also built on an abandoned rail line. Little towns along that trail would probably have all but disappeared by now, but instead, they flourish because of bicycle-related tourism.

The same economic comeback would follow our bike trail, and I suspect the benefits would exceed those generated by the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes. Everybody who sees this corridor agrees that it could be among the best bike routes in the world.

All we really need is for you to make a phone call to a BNSF executive to start the process of turning this unused rail line over to the public trust. But if you wanted to really show your stuff, you could actually fund construction of the trail.

I suppose you don’t like hearing this, but it seems like you could afford it. It would only take 50 Berkshire Hathaway’s Class A shares or around 3 percent of the money you invested in Goldman Sachs last September. In fact, based on my amateur calculations, you could build the whole thing with about 5 percent of the one-year profit from the Goldman Sachs investment.

Anyway, Mr. Buffett, I could go on, but I’ve heard you’re a busy guy. I’m sure it wasn’t part of the M&A plan for BNSF, but serendipitously, you’ve landed in a position where you can really help us accomplish something wonderful out here in Montana. Please make the call.

Respectfully and on behalf of many thousands of Montanans,

Bill Schneider