GLENWOOD SPRINGS — Garfield County commissioners on Monday followed the lead of neighboring Mesa County in passing a resolution asserting the county’s claim to local control over historic roads that pass through federal lands in the county.
Noting that 60 percent of the land in Garfield County is federally owned, but that many of the roads that criss-cross those lands were established before Colorado became a state in 1876, commissioners said the county has a say under federal law in managing those roads.
That law, established in 1866 and known as Revised Statute 2477, is an important protection for counties to secure emergency access to remote areas, as well as public access for recreation and commercial purposes, according to a resolution unanimously approved by the Garfield commissioners.
However, due to several uncertainties, “including inconsistent court decisions, shifting federal policy, competing arguments and objectives among various individuals and interest groups,” many of those historic routes are threatened, the resolution states.
Mesa County commissioners adopted a similar resolution last week. Both are in response to proposals to close some U.S. Bureau of Land Managements roads in Mesa County and far western Garfield County, as suggested in a draft resource management plan for the Grand Junction BLM Field Office area.
The prospect that some roads could be closed has been opposed by public lands user groups from both counties, including sportsmen, guide services and all-terrain vehicle enthusiasts.
“The big question for us is one of maintaining public access to these areas,” Garfield Commissioner Mike Samson said Monday. “If the federal government continues to shut off access, then we won’t be able to enjoy the uses we have now.”
Instead of costly litigation to keep such routes open, the county’s resolution suggests coming up with a clearer, more timely process for the federal government to consider road claims under the statute.
Glenwood Springs political activist and lobbyist Anita Sherman said at the Monday meeting that it’s a worthy conversation to take to the federal level, but she questioned whether county governments should be the ones to go to the time and expense to press the issue.
County officials said one goal is to eliminate the cost to local taxpayers for litigation to fight road claims cases.
Carbondale-area resident and former Pitkin County commissioners Dorothea Farris applauded the county to taking on the issue.
“It’s not just a county issue, it is a state issue,” Farris said. “We need to find a way to resolve these issues through a more appropriate process, and I appreciate your effort to bring this issue to where it belongs.”