Bear Ranch road opened, but to nowhere

Bear Ranch Manager Rob Gill walks through the gate that had barred access to the ranch from public land above Paonia Reservoir. A court order recently declared the road to be a public right of way under legislation from 1866. But the road leads only to more private land, and no other public roads.

The gate marking the entry onto the Bear Ranch above public land behind Paonia Reservoir no longer is locked, but anyone planning to drive it would do well to be well versed in driving in reverse.

Gunnison County Sheriff Rick Murdie last week declined to order Bear Ranch owner William Koch to open the gate after Murdie was presented with a court order declaring it to be a public right of way under rules set originally in the Mining Act of 1866.

On Monday, however, the electric arm to the gate was disabled, making it possible to pass through the private property of the ranch.

Doing so, however, could be problematic, Gunnison County Undersheriff Rick Besecker said Monday.

All of the side roads that connect to the main road are private property and to drive on them would be to trespass, Besecker said.

The end of the public road is at another gate and there is no obligation that it be open, Besecker said.

A driver would have to reverse course at that point, Besecker said.

“If you could turn around, it might be a 16- to 18-point turnaround,” Besecker said.

Murdie had said the access was a “road that goes to nowhere” when he declined last week to order the gate left unlocked.

A spokesman for the Bear Ranch couldn’t be reached for comment Monday on the status of the gate.

The gate, however, has been a point of contention in a larger dispute over plans by the Bear Ranch to acquire 1,800 acres of land administered by the Bureau of Land Management that sits between the upper and lower reaches of the ranch.

U.S. Rep. John Salazar, D-Colo., has proposed a land swap that would put all the 1,800 acres into the Bear Ranch. The federal government would receive 912 acres overlooking Blue Mesa Reservoir and the Dillon Pinnacles in the Gunnison Gorge National Conservation Area. The deal also includes the transfer of a private inholding in Dinosaur National Monument into federal hands.


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