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Old 02-23-2004, 12:22 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Public access rights to trails creating outcry from private owners

Public access rights to trails creating outcry from private owners
Date: Sunday, February 22 @ 00:00:30
Topic Top Stories

For about 10 years, mountain bikers have ridden up Hog Hollow Road and then come back down through national forest and other land to a trail that's part of the Alpine Loop Trail and the Bonneville Shoreline Trail.

That trail, which some say has been used by the public for 100 years, now is blocked by a development on land that became private only last year.

"We think the trail is important," said Bruce Argyle, an emergency room doctor and mountain bike rider. "It's the only possible routing for the Bonneville Trail."

Rerouting the trail around the private land would run it into the Lone Peak Wilderness, where mountain bikes are not allowed.

"We are in real danger of losing access in many, many places," said Craig Skidmore, chairman of the trails committee in Alpine.

It's happening in Alpine, Mapleton and other places in Utah County. One by one, developments and private land owners block once-public trails, choking off access to public lands beyond. Around Utah Lake, a legal dispute over the border between private and public lands has put public access to the shoreline in question.

The issue pits the rights of private property owners against the rights of the community at large.

Utah County comprises about 2,000 square miles with a population of about 380,000, which averages out to about 190 people per square mile. The bulk of the population lives east of Utah Lake, hard against the Wasatch Front and the Uinta National Forest where public lands entice residents.

"The problem is you can't get there," said Jim Price, project trails manager at Mountainland Association of Governments.

The law favors private landowners.

The Forest Service is required by law to provide reasonable access across public land to private land beyond.

"The laws aren't written the other way," said John Logan, lands officer with the Uinta National Forest. That doesn't mean people don't have recourse to protect historical access.

If people can prove a trail or access road has been used for at least 10 years, they can establish rights to access across private property through what's known as a prescriptive easement, Logan said. That battle ultimately is fought in court.

Alpine trails

Once 13 trails headed into the hills north of Alpine; now there's one, said Hugh Jacobs of Lindon, president of the Utah County chapter of the Backcountry Horsemen, known as Hi-Line & Hobbles.

"That's a sad commentary, especially when communities across the country are spending money to build trails," he said.

Trails are increasingly popular and offer recreation and transportation options. But locally, some cities are not in tune, Jacobs said.

"They're allowing developers to come in and dictate what they're going to do," he said.

The state has made an effort to establish the Bonneville Shoreline Trail, which if completed would stretch from Juab County to Cache County, and is far from complete through Utah County.

Some community members insist on asserting their private property rights. Others see the trail as an opportunity to contribute something by donating an easement or property. They get a tax write-off while they are seen as heroes, Jacobs said.

"It does the public so much good," he said. "Trails provide an opportunity for those who want to enjoy what God put there."

Developers are an easy target, but they aren't the only cause of closed trails.

Lehi has owned land northeast of Alpine for nearly a century. Here the hillside, known as Schoolhouse Spring, contains a number of springs that supply water to Lehi and Alpine.

"It's pretty important to us," Lehi City Manager Ed Collins said.

Development in the early 1990s and increased motorized traffic raised water quality concerns, and the two cities acquired additional land. Lehi eventually gained sole control of about 260 acres.

Lehi gated the road up the hill to Schoolhouse Spring and has been fencing access points to keep out off-road vehicles, Collins said. The city's goal has been to eliminate motorized use to halt erosion and damage to water developments.

"Our interest has not been to prohibit public access," he said.

The low-impact passive recreation by hikers, bikers and horse riders is tolerable. But the city doesn't want to be part of any organized, advertised formal trail either. There is other access to the public lands beyond from the national forest trailhead in Dry Creek Canyon, Collins said.

Last year, development on about 100 acres north of Schoolhouse Spring, which included septic tanks in the ground, raised additional concerns about the city's water supply. Lehi swapped 75 acres it owned east of Schoolhouse Spring for the developer's land to the north.

The developer is building three homes on the newly private land bordering the wilderness northeast of Alpine. The national forest trail still goes up Dry Creek Canyon.

But the subdivision blocks the Alpine Perimeter Trail that runs west from the Dry Creek trailhead. Earlier, another trail from Dry Creek to the Rodeo Grounds outside Alpine, connecting trails in the Lambert Park area, was obliterated by development.

To the west of Lehi's Schoolhouse Spring, a metal gate at a private subdivision in Fort Canyon blocks the access to a trail that heads up into national forest land.

"Slowly over the years, the whole North Mountain has become gated," Skidmore said.

Like other places along the Wasatch Front, development has left few trails open to bikers at low elevation outside wilderness areas, said Argyle, who grew up riding bikes in the dirt hills near his Pleasant Grove home.

Still, he knows developers have a right to develop their land.

"But many go out of their way to eliminate public trails," he said. Trails are a mixed blessing -- some people buy homes because public trails are nearby; others won't buy homes near public trails, fearing a lack of privacy and security.

And trails take up valuable real estate.

Protecting access

Kent Evans of American Fork, a member of the Utah County chapter of Backcountry Horsemen, sees the irony.

"We preserve vast amounts of land and yet close it off so a lot of people can't get to it," he said.

He doesn't advocate bulldozing roads into the backcountry, but there ought to be access for some motorized use, for hikers, bikers and horseback riders.

"The main issue is to keep trails open for the public," Evans said.

Alpine has made an effort to keep trails open. But it has no jurisdiction over the Alpine Perimeter Trail, because it is outside the city limits.

Protecting access requires cooperation among cities and the county and federal landowners.

"Access is always going to be at risk unless we get everybody on board," said Logan of the Uinta National Forest.

The alternatives include buying easements or property and establishing a trail master plan that would prevent them from disappearing in the future, he said.

Not all the news is bad. Alpine has made a serious effort to keep trails open, Skidmore said. And an equestrian trail winds through Lindon up into the mountains.

Trouble begins outside city limits. Though it encourages the preservation and construction of trails, Utah County has no trail master plan that would encourage or force developers to keep existing or proposed trails through their property.

But as development closes off access established by many years of use, private property rights have to be balanced against public rights of access, said Price of Mountainland.

"What we do is try to find common ground for the private landowner and the community at large," he said.

Property rights

Private property and public access have collided head-on in Mapleton.

Since the 1950s, a powerline access road crossed on property now owned by Wendell Gibby east of Mapleton. The powerline owner still has an easement, Gibby said. A metal gate with "no trespassing" signs now blocks the road -- or former road.

"There is no road," Gibby said. "It's been plowed under."

Gibby and his neighbors to the north say it's private property and if the city wants an easement it should pay for it. There are millions of acres of public lands in Utah and many miles of trails within minutes of Mapleton.

"There's plenty of places people can go," he said. His property is not blocking access to any public property. He has owned the land about 10 years, and he doesn't want a trail through his property.

But the road is a formal classified highway, said Bob Bradshaw, Mapleton city administrator. Gibby's gate constitutes an unauthorized obstruction -- an obstruction residents have torn down at least 20 times over the past few years.

Mapleton city officials say that it's part of the Bonneville Shoreline Trail, that years of use have established it as a public area and that residents should have access.

City officials have filed a court action to declare a public right of way, said Gordon Duvall, attorney for Mapleton. The city also is claiming a prescriptive use on behalf of residents who have used the road for years.

Gibby says he intends to fight the city.

"Having a trail through my property does nothing but devalue it," Gibby said. "I don't want to have strangers, kidnappers, weirdos wandering through my property."

Lakeshore litigation

The situation is a little different around Utah Lake, where public access to the lakeshore is left in doubt by a legal dispute over the exact boundary between private property and the publicly owned lake.

The 96,600-acre lake belongs to the state, but most of the shoreline is private land. Legal action dating to 1994 has sought to settle just what constitutes "ordinary high water" at the time of statehood, which constitutes the legal boundary.

If the settlement puts the border somewhere out in the lake, public access would be reduced, said Barry Tripp, sovereign lands administrator with the Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands.

"The public is not going to have access to the shoreline to hunt and fish and other things," Tripp said.

Public access to the lake now is limited to a few places, including several boat harbors and access points. Vineyard Road west of Geneva Steel runs along the lake. Here county officials would like to replace the road with trail to eliminate abuse. Area residents drive on the lakeshore and dump their trash, apparently oblivious to the "no dumping" signs rendered nearly illegible by bullet holes.

"The more the public uses the trails, the less opportunities for illegal activities," associate county engineer Paul Hawker said.

The Provo River Trail from Vivian Park to Utah Lake and Jordan River Trail from Utah Lake to the Salt Lake County line were built in the 1980s before Thanksgiving Point and other development that might have blocked parts of the trails, Hawker said.

"We got that trail built before development," Hawker said.

The county hopes to connect those two trails with a trail along Utah Lake, which would provide public access to the lake as well. A short trail now winds north from Utah Lake State Park along the lake for about a mile.

"The lake is a public facility so the public has a right to have access to it," Hawker said. "Without a trail they don't have a lot of good points of access."

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Old 02-23-2004, 12:33 PM   #2 (permalink)
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"The laws aren't written the other way," said John Logan, lands officer with the Uinta National Forest. That doesn't mean people don't have recourse to protect historical access.

If people can prove a trail or access road has been used for at least 10 years, they can establish rights to access across private property through what's known as a prescriptive easement, Logan said. That battle ultimately is fought in court.

That seems like a waste of time and money to have to take it to court - where a simple re-writing of the law would fix alot of the problems we experience with accessing public lands.

Can anyone really argue that its okay to block access to public lands by creating a wall of private property?
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Old 02-23-2004, 07:16 PM   #3 (permalink)
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it is my firm belief that the land managers have done this by design for the very reason that we are seeing today. it in effect creats an area that the public no longer damages by their presence and the managers get to stand on the sidelines claiming that there is nothing that they can do . while the private citizens take each other to court
good stratagy and its working
post 980 virtual protest
i am fighting a battle for a public road. will you help me
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Old 02-24-2004, 07:02 AM   #4 (permalink)
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Here is another related example:

Off-road vehicles said to be causing problems in the national forest

MARK TWAIN NATIONAL FOREST, Mo. (AP) -- Norman Krutzman of suburban St. Louis bought land adjacent to the Mark Twain National Forest to enjoy a quiet retirement.

Instead, he says, he spends his time confronting off-road vehicle enthusiasts who trespass on private and Forest Service property, tear up the land and leave air pollution, racket and empty beer cans in their wake.

"I'm to the point of violence," Krutzman, 62, told U.S. Forest Service officials Tuesday at a meeting on a proposal to open trails to off-road vehicles in the Mark Twain. "They can't enforce the law. Where does it stop?"

But at the same public airing on the issue were avid off-roaders who say their clubs emphasize responsible riding and trash-pickup events in the forest.

"If we had access (in the national forest), it would go a long way toward allowing us to self-police the rogue people who continue to run roughshod on the land," said John Doneff, treasurer of the St. Louis-based Midwest Jeepthing. "We adhere to the principle of 'tread lightly.' You can't hear a jeep 100 yards away. You can hear an ATV and a motorcycle."

The Forest Service says it's trying to deliver a compromise between the interests of riders and a need to protect the land.

"The use is here, no matter whether we want it," said Paul Nazarenko, a recreation specialist for the Mark Twain. "We're trying to provide an area that is not that environmentally sensitive."

The agency proposes opening 145 miles of off-road vehicle trails in forests near Potosi, Fredericktown and Poplar Bluff in southeast Missouri. The proposal opens some trails and stream crossings that were created by illegal off-road use. It closes others that are badly eroded, dangerous or that lead to private property or environmentally sensitive lands.

Only Palmer, a former lead-mining area near Potosi, would be open to all off-road vehicles including Jeeps and dune buggies; Cherokee Pass (near Fredericktown) and Blackwell Ridge (near Poplar Bluff) would be managed for all-terrain vehicles only.

Forest Service lands in Chadwick near Springfield and Sutton Bluff east of Salem already allow ATV and motorcycle use.

A three-year study would assess the plan's environmental impact and whether creating legal trails deters illegal riding elsewhere in the forest. Officials say enforcement will remain a challenge, but that it's still worth trying.

"We can't stick our heads in the sand," Forest Supervisor Ronnie Raum said. "This is one of the most rapidly growing outdoor recreations in Missouri. "There's been a 600 percent increase over the last 10 years."

The Forest Service says it has no idea how many illegal riders use the 1.5-million-acre Mark Twain National Forest each year.

Last year, Missourians bought 28,000 new ATVs and off-road motorcycles, according to the Motorcycle Industry Council. New purchases have jumped 1,000 units each of the past three years.

The Forest Service plan was developed in conjunction with trail rider groups that pressed for more trails last year. Nationally, the Forest Service is moving toward allowing off-road vehicles on designated routes, although agencies in some states have banned them altogether.

Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth has said unmanaged off-road vehicle use is one of the top four threats to national forests, along with lack of open space, wildfires and invasive plants and animals.

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