Developers block Forest Service road near Edwards
EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado – Landowners above Edwards have gated and blocked a Forest Service road that runs through their private property that is surrounded by public lands.
Local mountain bikers use the road, and the gates were erected as the first big game rifle hunting season is scheduled to open Saturday. The land is 680 privately owned acres surrounded by Forest Service land.
The landowners, represented by local developer Michael English, say the public has no right to use it.
But the U.S. Forest Service has maintained the road for years, says Dave Neely, district ranger with the Eagle/Holy Cross Ranger District.
Forest Service Road 780 was originally built to service power lines above Edwards. It has been part of Forest Service’s road system for several years, Neely said.
Participate in The Longevity Project
The Longevity Project is an annual campaign to help educate readers about what it takes to live a long, fulfilling life in our valley. This year Kevin shares his story of hope and celebration of life with his presentation Cracked, Not Broken as we explore the critical and relevant topic of mental health.
The general principle is that if a public trail crosses private land and has been continuously open for a certain number of years, then the public’s right to access is established, Neely said.
“There’s a long history of recreational use of this area,” Neely said.
English says it’s a service road, and the public has no right to cross the private land.
People leave abandoned vehicles and piles of trash, and they’re hunting illegally on the private land, English says.
“It has always been private land, but now they’re aware of it,” English says.
The Forest Service has to protect the rights of both the landowner and the public, Neely said.
“We’re in the process of reviewing this and we hope to work with them to achieve a satisfactory resolution,” Neely said. “Before we assert a prescriptive right, we need to make sure it does, in fact, exist.”
The 680 acres used to be called the Edwards Overlook. The landowners, Berlaimont Estates LLC, had planned to divide their 680 acres into 19 35-acre parcels – the smallest amount of land in Colorado that can be sold and developed without government approval.
Those plans were shelved when the Eagle County commissioners refused to waive the county’s requirement for a two-lane paved road to the lots.
The ranch is surrounded by U.S. Forest Service property, and the only way to get to it is via a Forest Service road. Federal rules require the Forest Service to provide access to private land, but are vague as to just what kind of access it has to be.
But what’s the law?
Public roads pass through private land all over Eagle County, and the public has a right to travel them, says local attorney David Lugert.
Lugert won a similar case a couple years ago, a hunter who was blocked from accessing a trail he’d used for decades.
“It’s a hot topic, especially with bicyclists and hunters. They’re very passionate about access to public land,” Lugert said.
If the public has used a road for more than 18 years, that creates an easement, Lugert says.
He said he sympathizes with the landowners, because the public can leave behind a mess, but blocking access is solving a minor problem with a sledgehammer, he says.
“They’re doing the wrong thing for the wrong reasons. If this meets the legal criteria, blocking access is improper and unlawful, and doesn’t educate the public. The public knows this is a public road going through private land, and that they should stay on the road.”
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.