Hunter fights for old Eagle Co. trail on private land
Vail, CO Colorado
GYPSUM, Colorado ” Rick Bumgardner has been using a trail a few miles south of Gypsum for 26 years, but last month was the first time he got a trespassing ticket there.
In November, Bumgardner got a trespassing ticket for stepping onto the private ranch, where the 600-foot-long trail leads to public land. Now Bumgardner and his Edwards attorney, David Lugert, will fight the trespassing ticket by arguing that Bumgardner has the right to use the trail through “prescriptive easement.”
That means that if someone has used the land for at least 18 consecutive years, he or she can continue to do so without permission, according to state law.
Linda Pillow and her husband, John Pillow, never intended for the public to use the trail, she said.
“It certainly doesn’t seem fair,” said Linda Pillow, whose husband got the property from his father, David Pillow, in 1988.
In November, Bumgardner called Linda Pillow and told her he would cross her land the next day.
Linda Pillow said she then told Bumgardner he didn’t have her permission to cross her land. Bumgardner said he didn’t need her permission, and that she should call Eagle County sheriff’s deputies if she did not want him there.
“We had this funny little exchange going,” she said.
Lugert explained the law to sheriff’s deputies, who met Bumgardner and Lugert there the next morning.
Bumgardner opened the gate to the land, walked inside briefly and walked back out, according to an Eagle County Sheriff’s Office report.
“We’ve done the best we can to keep it our land, keep it private,” Pillow said.
The Pillows have allowed U.S. Forest Service workers to use the trail to manage the public land, and people whose cattle graze there to cross through, she said.
“We feel like we’ve been good neighbors,” she said.
But trash has been left along the trail and fences have been trampled, she said. She also worries about horses in the pasture.
“When there are horses in there, you don’t really want people opening your gates,” she said.
In the last few years, a gate and a “No trespassing” sign were put at the trailhead to block it off to the public, said Bill Heicher, a retired game warden for the Colorado Division of Wildlife.
In the past, Heicher has recommended the trail to “hundreds” of hunters, and he has used it himself to get to the hunting grounds on the west side of Hardscrabble Mountain.
He knew former landowner David Pillow, who bought the property in 1971. David Pillow never said the trail was closed to the public, Heicher said.
No motor vehicles are allowed in the tens of thousands of acres of public land, and Hardscrabble’s steep hillsides with no trails makes it difficult to get on the land from anywhere else, he said.
There’s another trail through private property called Yates Gulch, a couple miles away, but the gate to that trail is periodically locked off from the public, Heicher said.
“If you’ve lost one or both (trails), you’ve lost a significant amount of access,” Heicher said.
Maps dating back to the early 1900s show Miller Gulch as a public trail, said Bill Johnson, district land staff member for the Forest Service.
“The main access we’re looking not to lose is public access for recreation,” he said.
Bumgardner has never asked for permission to use the trail, and that is one of several reasons crossing through the land is legal, said Lugert, who hopes to get the ticket dismissed.
The public has used the trail for “more than 100 years,” said Lugert, adding that at least two other people have been ticketed for using the trail this year.
Prescriptive easement calls for a use of land, such as walking through it, unlike cases involving “adverse possession,” which calls for ownership of someone else’s property, if someone else has been using it without permission for 18 years, Lugert said.
Bumgardner does not seek to own the Pillows’ land, Lugert said.
Bumgardner said he used to hunt coyotes on the land when he went to Eagle Valley High School, and now he rides his horse “Snip” and hunts elk with his friends.
Bumgardner hopes he will be able to use the trail again.
“It’s one of them deals,” Bumgardner said. “We just kind of got to figure it out, I guess you would say.”