County reopens matter of public lands access |

County reopens matter of public lands access

Garfield County is surrounded by public lands, but sometimes they are out of the public’s reach due to questionable road closures.

To ensure hikers, hunters, recreationists and ranchers can reach U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management lands as conveniently as possible, Garfield County commissioners have revived the long-dormant Access Committee.

County Commissioner Larry McCown performed the CPR, and the committee held its first quarterly meeting on Tuesday. At the table with McCown were representatives from the Forest Service, the BLM, the Colorado Division of Wildlife, and citizen representatives Pat Fitzgerald of Glenwood Springs and John Savage of Rifle.

Fitzgerald served on the original Access Committee in the late 1980s, when a handful of disputed county road closures by private land owners cut off access to public lands.

“There were four or five cases the county commissioners asked us to look at,” said Fitzgerald, listing Puma Paw Ranch as the most notable. The group worked for about 18 months.

McCown said the access issue returned last year when a property owner on Big Mountain, north of Rifle, closed a section of Forest Service road that crossed a corner of his land.

Residents called McCown to protest the closure. McCown then contacted the Forest Service and property owner.

“He agreed to reopen the road,” McCown said.

McCown said the Access Committee is being reactivated so the county can head off access issues before they become bigger problems.

The Access Committee already has plenty of potential road closures to consider. A list of 12 county road closures was presented by Garfield County analyst Rob Hykys at Monday’s county commissioner meeting.

McCown said the roads were included at some point on county maps, but it’s unclear whether the county section of the roads end at gates and other points of closure, or whether they continue beyond private property to public lands.

In all, there are 53 miles of road that could access public lands that are presently closed. The roads are mostly located in the western part of Garfield County, and include parts of county roads 157, 204, 211, 222, 230, 232, 239, 241, 256, 269, 286, and 319.

The next Access Committee meeting is scheduled for 10 a.m. on Tuesday, April 22, at the White River National Forest District Ranger Station in Rifle.

Contact Lynn Burton: 945-8515, ext. 534

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