Disputed Garfield County roads near De Beque again open to the public | PostIndependent.com

Disputed Garfield County roads near De Beque again open to the public

Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals rejects ranch’s second attempt to prohibit access

Public access through a private ranch north of De Beque are again open after the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals last week rejected another attempt by the ranch owners to prevent access.

Owners of the High Lonesome Ranch had recently locked a gate within the boundary of its property prohibiting access to sections of the North Dry Fork and Middle Dry Fork roads.

The ranch owners had argued in the new appeal that road work done by Garfield County to repair and mitigate for future damage caused by flooding from the 2020 Pine Gulch Fire burn scar had encroached on private property.

“The ranch has not met its burden for a stay pending appeal,” the appeals court ruled on Sept. 2. “Accordingly, we lift the temporary stay entered on August 20, 2021, deny the ranch’s renewed motion for a stay, and deny as moot the ranch’s emergency motion.”

On Dec. 22, 2020, U.S. District Court Judge Brooke Jackson issued a 68-page ruling in favor of Garfield County and against the ranch, confirming that both roads in question are public.

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In June, the ranch appealed that ruling, which attorneys for Garfield County answered in an Aug. 24 brief. The parties have requested oral argument, but no date has yet been set.

The roads provide access to roughly 50,000 to 90,000 acres of Bureau of Land Management public land beyond the ranch, the December ruling noted.

Garfield County Attorney Tari Williams said it’s important that the public knows the roads are open following the brief closure in late August, especially with the arrival of big game hunting season.

“We want to eliminate any confusion that may have been caused by the ranch’s effort to prevent the public from being able to use these roads to access these lands so close to hunting season,” Williams said in a Friday news release sent out by the county.

“The roads are open, but at the same time, it is important to be aware that these roads are in the area heavily damaged by fire and subsequent rain events,” she added.

Williams advised that anytime it rains heavily there is the potential for flash floods and debris flows in the area accessed by the roads. The Garfield County Emergency Operations Center website [www.garfield-county.com] provides regular flash flood alerts and updates.

The District court ruling affirmed that the roads through the ranch are public rights-of-way under federal law; part of the Mining Act of 1866. The ranch had argued that the roads are privately owned. A section of North Dry Fork Road, also known as County Road 200, and Middle Dry Fork Road, which forks off the former, have existed in virtually the same routes since the late 1800s, according to the December ruling by Judge Jackson.

The gate is now unlocked, allowing hunters and the general public to access the public lands beyond the ranch, the county noted in its release.

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