Lonesome ranch aims to stay that way
The Bureau of Land Management has been dragged into a lawsuit over whether a road outside De Beque should be opened to public use, but the agency has yet to say where it stands on the issue.
The legal battle also has shifted as a result from the state to the federal court system, after a judge’s ruling in April.
At issue is an attempt by Garfield County to force the High Lonesome Ranch to open a locked gate on County Road 200 in the Dry Fork Valley just north of the Mesa County line.
County commissioners decided in December 2015 that the road remains public for about four and a half miles beyond the gate and access to it should be reopened.
The guest ranch disagreed with the county’s conclusion, refused to open the gate and sued the county in the 9th Judicial District Court in Glenwood Springs, seeking a judgment that the road isn’t public.
It worries that opening the road would lead to trespassing on the ranch and possibly expose it to unwarranted legal claims and liabilities.
The county argues in a court filing that the locked gate closes access “to dozens of miles of public roads and thousands of acres of public land.”
On April 17, 9th District Court Judge Anne Norrdin declined a motion by the county to dismiss the case, but agreed with the county’s contention that the BLM and a private company called #20, LLC, should become parties in the case.
That’s because the road provides access to BLM land and land owned by the company, and a ruling finding the road to be private would affect access to those lands, Norrdin ruled.
The company, #20, LLC, is associated with the ranch, and has subsequently joined in the filing of a suit in federal court continuing to pursue the road claim, but with the BLM also being a defendant.
Norrdin wrote in her ruling that while she “anticipates that the BLM will claim an interest in the road due to access issues, it is yet unclear whether that is, in fact, the case.”
Jeff Dorschner, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Colorado, said the BLM hasn’t yet taken a position in court filings advocating for one side or the other in the case.
“Beyond that, because this is pending litigation we can’t comment further,” he said.
The BLM does say in one filing that the part of the disputed road that is entirely on the ranch’s property doesn’t by itself access any public property.
But the agency adds that part of the road “can be used to access public property in conjunction with other portions of the disputed road, as alleged in the (c)ounty’s counterclaim.”
In that counterclaim, the county says the ranch interests locked the gate “so they can have the public land all to themselves and operate a commercial, high-end recreational and hunting ranch on private property they own in the area, but also on the surrounding public land.”
It says the county is seeking “to reopen the public roads and to provide access to all of its citizens to their public land.”
The county argues neither the county nor BLM ever vacated the road and nearby ones.
It says the roads are also public based on a federal statute known as RS 2477, actions of the county commissioners in 1929 and 1953, and because of their prior use by the public for an extensive number of years.
The ranch’s federal suit says County Road 200 is “not a public highway, right of way, or any other type of public thoroughfare under any set of facts or theory of law, and does not touch, abut, traverse, or access any public property.”
It adds, “Upon information and belief, the gate has been in substantially the same location for decades, but at least since October 1976.”