Access denied again
For a handful of Glade Park residents, the return of this year’s all-terrain vehicle and mountain-biking season also signaled an unwanted surprise: Their most direct access to the playground of Pinon Mesa had been closed by Mesa County earlier in the year.
In April, county commissioners approved the vacation of a portion of South 21 1/2 Road, also known as Jacob’s Ladder Road — an unpaved and unmaintained right of way that essentially connects the two main roads in the area, Little Park and JS roads.
The road, which has been referenced in county documents since 1883, is adjacent to a number of privately held properties.
Those property owners pooled together over the winter to press the county to vacate the section of road, shutting public access it, and their effort was officially approved on April 23.
But as the snows melted in the area of the closure, word of mouth began to spread among the regular seasonal users of the road. Folks who for years had back-door access to the trails of scenic Pinon Mesa via their ATVs, horses, jeeps and mountain bikes this year found new private-property signage and padlocked gates at the entrance.
“We just were unaware that it was even being thought of being closed,” said Laurinda Conrad, who lives in a subdivision that borders South 21 1/2 Road. “For people on Glade Park that have always enjoyed riding up (to Pinyon Mesa) in the evening, or taking a peaceful hike, it takes away our livelihood.”
Since the closure became widely realized, trail users of all stripes have lamented the recent loss of access. Dave Grossman, coordinator of the Grand Valley Trails Alliance, has heard from many of the mountain bikers, off-road enthusiasts, horse riders and hikers who use the road.
“It gives access to a really scenic and beautiful section of country, in close proximity to the metropolitan area of the Grand Valley,” Grossman said. “I think it’s an amazing resource, and it’s a shame to lose that.”
County planning officials, at the behest of the private landowners group who petitioned the county by way of a detailed legal application drafted by a Front Range attorney, completed a thorough review of the project. They recommended approval on Feb. 29, after concluding that the closure met all of their specific criteria.
But when the issue came before county commissioners, it was quietly passed without public comment via the consent agenda on March 26.
So, where was all the public outcry from the regular users of the trail, who anecdotally have come forward this summer to say they use the road? The issue centers on notification.
What’s clear is the county followed all of the proper procedures regarding notification of the public about the application to close the road — publication of notice in the newspaper 30 days before the county commission hearing, detailed posting of signs in the area and the mailing of notices to properties within 2,500 feet of the section of road in question.
But most of the residents who use the road fall just outside of this distance. And most people use the rugged road when the snows melt and the trail becomes ridable.
“They notified themselves, basically,” Conrad said. “Had they (notified) in the summer months when people actually use the road, everyone would have been notified and we would have all been at the hearing.”
Conrad is one of about 30 plaintiffs who cobbled their funds together to hire an attorney, who drafted a civil complaint filed in Mesa County District Court that challenges a number of assertions in the original application with the county.
Among their contentions is that the application “misrepresented that the portion of South 21 1/2 Road to be vacated was not being used as a public road, and had not been padlocked, barring its use by the Plaintiffs, other users and the public.”
They also dispute the charge made in the application of vandalism and trespass along the road, citing their own independent investigation of public law enforcement records for the area.
Their civic complaint has yet to be assigned a hearing in district court. When it is, they hope that Chief District Judge David Bottger will remand the case back to the commissioners for a rehearing.
“We think that (county commissioners) just didn’t have all the information to make a full, informed decision,” Conrad said.
County officials, for their part, will have to be moved to rehear the case.
“While the county Planning staff followed the notification regulations in the case, if the court determines that a new hearing is necessary, we will certainly move forward to schedule one, and give everyone involved a chance to be heard,” Jessica Peterson, a spokesperson for the county, wrote in an email to the Daily Sentinel.
Property owners Ronald Tipping and Clifton Mays, who were named as applicants to the county, did not return messages seeking comment for this story. James Fromm, also named as an applying property owner, declined to comment.
This isn’t the first time in the long history of the road that someone has applied to close the section to public use.
A vacation of right of way was requested, and denied, in June 1966.
And in May 1977, a vacation was similarly requested and denied; however, three miles of the road were removed from the county maintenance system at that time.