In December 2020, Federal Judge Jackson ruled to reopen County Road 200 and North Dry Fork Road in Garfield County Colorado – Judge Jackson’s detailed ruling and history of the case. This ruling reopened between 50,000 and 90,000 acres of BLM-managed public lands to all Americans. The rule of law won the day and RS 2477, Colorado State Law, and Prescpritive Easement were utilized to allow the general public to access their public lands. In this case, just a few thousand acres of private lands were used to close off up to 90,000 acres of public lands for the general public.
The appeal process started shortly after High Lonesome Ranch was forced to remove the lock on County Road 200 and the general public was allowed to access their public lands again. Judge Jackson’s conclusion ” The Court holds that the roads in dispute became public in their entirety no later than 1949 through a combination of R.S. 2477 and public prescriptive use. The county has not abandoned the roads, and they remain public today. This may seem a counterintuitive outcome for those observing that the High Lonesome Ranch and its more recent predecessors, not the county, have controlled, improved, and maintained the roads over the last few decades. But law often runs contrary to our modern expectations. In Colorado it is far easier for a road to become public than for it to cast off its public status. This reality in part reflects the historic importance of public land, and the right of everyday citizens, not just the privileged, to travel freely and to enjoy the great landscapes of this state.”
“Conservation” Groups, such as PERC soon joined up with High Lonesome Ranch to help keep the general public from accessing their public lands. They did so by filing an Amicus Curiae (an entity that has been allowed by the court to plead/submit opinion but is not directly involved in the action). You can see their inclusion on this Temporary Stay which successfully locked the gate back up on August 21, 2020, just two weeks before the start of hunting season in Western Colorado.
The Temporary Stay shows Pacific Legal Foundation, Colorado Farm Bureau, New Mexico Habitat Conservation Initiative (NMHCI) No web site located- article on NMHCI donations, Rocky Mountain Farmers Union (RMFM), Property and Environment Research Center (PERC), Utah Farmers Union (UFM), and Western Landowners Alliance (WLA) on the court filing as Amicus Curiae.
One of the owners of High Lonesome Ranch (see page 6 of Judge Jackson’s ruling) is Mr. Vahldiek. According to the WLA website, Mr. Vahldiek is also a founding member and former chairperson of WLA. WLA has published this article online regarding the reopening of County Road 200 and public lands to the general public (PDF). Within Judge Jacksons’ ruling, it is disclosed that HLR charges around $10,000 for a big game hunt. Interestingly enough here is a different article on the WLA website that seems to fully support the rule of law and the use of prescriptive easements to access private lands – A Road to Nowhere? Easements and Access to Real Property. (PDF) If you really want to understand legal rights of way or public highways in Colorado read this from the Colorado Department of Law – Public Land Access Taskforce or this from Mesa County Road Department Keith Corey.
Here is the Amicus Curiae (READ THIS!) or you can view it on PERC’s website. The argument to remove access to our public lands in the name of conservation is very concerning and all public land recreationists and hunters should be offended by these conservation and farmer groups’ actions. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) generally does a good job of protecting public lands. The BLM has designated the majority of the backcountry branch off routes (now accessible by the reopening of County Road 200 -Dry Fork Road) as “Administrative Routes”. This means the BLM, law enforcement, and outfitters like HLR (who pay for BLM road permits to access private land inholdings surrounded by BLM lands) can still drive on the routes but the general public is limited to foot and horse traffic.
We are a nation of laws, conservation does not trump the rule of law and a county road thru private lands does not diminish conservation.