Sharon Sullivan

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January 3, 2013
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Mesa County road users protest landowners' tactics to close Glade Park right-of-way

GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. - Several Grand Valley residents who hike, ride horses, mountain bike, and/or drive their ATVs are protesting the closure of South 21 1/2 Road, a historical right-of-way on Glade Park, a county road that a private landowner group was allowed to close without hearing from longtime users.

Landowners adjacent to the road posted signs regarding the proposed closure, as required by Mesa County. Neighbors who travel the road, plus other recreational users, however, say they did not see the signs posted for 30 days last winter because the unmaintained county road was snow-covered, and seldom used at that time.

The road, also known as Jacob's Ladder, was established in 1883, and loops to JS and South 16 1/2 roads, and around to the Glade Park Store on Little Park Road.

County commissioners voted to close the right-of-way March 26, after receiving no public comments regarding the application to vacate the road. A month later residents found a gate to the road padlocked.

At the intersection of Little Park and South 21 1/2 roads, there are road signs, an end-of-winter maintenance sign, and real estate signs - "a logical place for a notification," said Glade Park resident Laurinda Conrad, one of dozens of people who are asking Mesa County to reverse its decision.

A notification sign was placed three miles past the intersection, a mile-and-a-half past the last subdivision on the road, and at the top of South 21 1/2 and JS roads, Conrad said.

"You couldn't see the signs because of the time of the year," Conrad said. "It's really sad - nobody knew about it."

Affected individuals and eight different user groups, including the Grand Valley Trail Alliance, and the Western Slope ATV Association have gathered 250 signatures in support of reopening the road. Grand Valley Trail Alliance is a nonprofit that works to support trail efforts and public access for trail users of all types.

Mesa County Commissioner Janet Rowland said the board had no idea there were people against the road closure.

"It wasn't until we vacated the right-of-way, that residents learned it had been gated off, and they came to us," Rowland said. "There were no written comments, or opposition (beforehand).

"So we vacated a right-of-way that people had used for decades.

"I feel very strongly we were duped. It was very calculated, manipulative. If we had had all the facts we wouldn't have closed the road."

The landowners who requested the closure are Ron Tipping, James Fromm, Rodney Power, William Patterson, Cliff Mays and Ronald Smith. Neither Tipping or Fromm would comment when contacted for this story.

In a letter to commissioners, Terri Schmitt, who lives in the Little Park Ranches area, said she has mountain biked, hiked, snowshoed and rode ATVs on the road during the five years she's lived there. Schmitt wrote "keeping the road open supports established goals outlined in the Mesa County Land Use Codes," including goal four: "To identify and protect existing and future major trail linkages and intersections in the county."

Opponents point to a previous 1966 decision that "the County Attorney of Mesa County is authorized and directed to take such action as shall be necessary to obtain injunctive or other relief from the courts to keep the said roads open to the public."

Opponents also cite the possibility of fire danger on Glade Park as another reason for keeping the route open.

After learning of the opposition, county commissioners directed County Attorney Lyle Dechant to file a motion in District Court to rescind the resolution, and remand the board to hear the evidence. Chief District Judge David Bottger granted the request, but reversed his decision a week later after meeting with the landowners. Bottger said that the court had erred in its initial decision.

"Judge Bottger determined it was a legislative matter, and not subject to review," Dechant said.

Proponents of keeping the road open were told they could pursue the matter in court.

The opposition group had filed a lawsuit earlier in the year, but their attorney dropped the case after they had collectively spent $8,000, Conrad said. Opponents say they can no longer afford to pursue legal action on their own.

"The landowners are very wealthy and can throw a lot more money at it than we can. It's discouraging," Grand Valley Trail Alliance Coordinator Dave Grossman said.

So the group wants Dechant to fight for them based on historical records that call for the county to keep said roads open to the public.

Dechant said the plaintiffs have to prove their Constitutional rights to due process were violated when the county adopted the resolution to close the road.

Basically, "they're asking the county to sue itself. I'd be prosecuting (Rule 57) against my own client (Mesa County)," Dechant said.

Regarding historical records calling for keeping the county road open, Dechant said "boards change; there are different directives."

Grossman said while the landowner group may have followed the letter of the law, they "definitely did it in a manner that nobody knew about it; the spirit of the law was definitely not maintained," he said.

"They were successful because nobody knew what was happening," Grossman said. "As soon as they knew, there was a huge public outcry."

Eighty-some people signed affidavits attesting to their use of the right-of-way.

"It's a unique and beautiful access to the Uncompahgre," Grossman said. "It's a beautiful trail itself, it has amazing views. It's been in the county road system since the late 1800s."

The adjacent landowners were given "beautiful, free land," Grossman said.

"Hopefully, we still have a chance of getting it back."

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The Post Independent Updated Jan 3, 2013 05:11PM Published Jan 3, 2013 03:20PM Copyright 2013 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.