Quandary Peak access road at the center of bitter Summit County controversy
About 7 miles south of Breckenridge stands one of Colorado’s most famous 14ers.
Most hikers and skiers headed toward the 14,265-foot Quandary Peak to enjoy a backcountry adventure have no idea about a problem intensifying not far from the mountain’s trailhead.
The argument centers on whether neighbors, outdoor enthusiasts and the public can use an old road that now runs through private property to access national forest lands.
The quarrel has changed the atmosphere of a neighborhood known as the McDill Placer subdivision.
“It’s dividing the neighborhood between McCallum and everyone else,” said Marty Eisenberg, 74, a full-time resident in the subdivision since 2003 and second-home owner before that.
For the last three years, real estate broker Greg McCallum has owned and lived on 6 acres off Monte Cristo Mine Road. Since McCallum bought his property in 2011, neighbors said, he has discouraged people, in sometimes intimidating ways, from using the road. He and his lawyer believe the road is private.
Neighbors and other interested community members who have walked and skied the road for generations say the road is public and should stay that way.
In recent months McCallum added physical obstructions to his no-trespassing signs.
“He’s blocked off the trail with big fences and gates. He’s actually parked a pickup truck in the middle of the trail,” said John Johnston, a father with young children who has lived nearby since 2010. “It’s a really hostile environment now. It changed a wonderful neighborhood, and everybody else in the neighborhood is just so friendly and genial.”
CEASE AND DESIST
About a dozen people seeking public access attended an Upper Blue Planning Commission meeting Dec. 18, when plowing the road was on the agenda, to voice their concerns.
The next day, assistant county manager Thad Noll sent McCallum a cease-and-desist order demanding that he remove all obstructions on the road by Dec. 24, or the county would have them removed.
“They (the McCallums) just don’t want the public going through the property, but the public’s been going through that property for decades,” Noll said, or at least since 1943 when the road was deeded to the government.
After the main Quandary Peak Trail was rerouted in the early 2000s, hundreds of summer hikers moved away from Monte Cristo Mine Road. However, locals and visitors still regularly use the road for backcountry skiing, skinning, snowshoeing and hiking.
Though the county has gotten more involved after people complained about access in the last couple of months, Noll said, the county has long supported public access on Monte Cristo Mine Road.
“We’ve got the federal government saying, ‘Yes, it’s a public road,’” he said, referring to an email Dillon Ranger District community planner Paul Semmer wrote to McCallum and county officials Dec. 10.
“The road across your property is a public right-of-way, and any signs (implying) that it is not must be removed,” Semmer wrote.
Besides the Forest Service, the citizen-board of the Upper Blue Planning Commission also agrees with the county, Noll said.
Instead of removing anything Wednesday, he said county staff decided to give McCallum more time after learning he had hired a new lawyer.
Denver-based attorney Geoffrey Anderson, who specializes in road and access law, said he spoke with McCallum Wednesday.
“His view is that the folks who want to use this road aren’t going to see him. They’re crossing his road to go somewhere else,” Anderson said, and they can use plenty of other routes to get to the public lands in the national forest.
Noll said the issue might be best settled in court, and one of the sides could file suit as soon as Friday.
Dr. Granville Lloyd bought his property at the west end of the neighborhood almost 20 years ago and has frequently visited the national forest near McCallum’s property since the 1980s.
Lloyd, 49, described Monte Cristo Mine Road as a great way to reach a favorite ski loop that he used for years while training for the annual Imperial Challenge.
“We do our Christmas skis back there. We walk the dogs in the summer back there,” he said. “There’s just this insanely fantastic sledding hill down there.”
For Johnston, the road, which has historically not allowed motorized use, provides safe passage to numerous hiking trails.
“Some of the other trails are shared by cars, and so if you’re hiking with young children or pets there’s a risk there,” he said.
Though Lloyd currently lives in Wisconsin, he hired local lawyer Dan Teodoru to represent those opposed to McCallum’s attempts to ban public use.
Teodoru said the Upper Blue Master Plan, which represents the Upper Blue Basin’s community vision, has long designated the road as a significant winter and summer recreation route.
“It’s a pivotal route to very important recreation areas in the Upper Blue Basin,” including Quandary Peak, Monte Cristo Gulch and McCullough Gulch, Teodoru said. “The notion that, ‘Oh, you can just go somewhere else’ isn’t the way it works.”
Teodoru has worked on public land use issues in Summit as a county attorney for 12 years and in private practice for four years. He said such disputes happen often and they impact more than local property owners and neighbors.
“The recreation assets that we have in this county are a pivotal part of our identity and our success as a destination,” he said, “and we need to take whatever efforts we can to protect and preserve what we have.”
In November, Lloyd said, he told the McCallums that he had a similar experience with neighbors using a “road-slash-trail” that ran through his property when he first bought it.
He was worried at first, but he told those folks that as long as they weren’t using motorized vehicles it was fine for them to pass through. Soon he and the trail users became great friends, he said.
“You’re better to just be neighborly with everybody, and we can all get along, and we can all share it,” Lloyd said he told the McCallums.
FUTURE OF THE LAND
As a real estate professional, McCallum must have known his property had the public road running through it when he bought it, neighbors said, and they don’t understand why he would buy the land to fight for years against the way things have been.
“That makes no sense,” Lloyd said, “unless you think you can just run roughshod over the county and the locals and everyone and just get away with it.”
Some neighbors have worried about how banning public use on the road could incentivize development and affect property values in the neighborhood, where people live because they are surrounded by national forest.
Removing public access would increase McCallum’s property value and lower everyone else’s, Eisenberg said. “He would have basically converted a public land and public infrastructure to his private use.”
Johnston said he has actively supported keeping the road open because the issue comes down to keeping the national forest accessible to his children and grandchildren.
“To have somebody try to steal that from my descendants as well as all the other people who enjoy hiking in Summit County is just wrong,” he said. “It’s worth standing up for because what he’s doing is just incredibly selfish, and that very special place belongs to everybody.”
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Colorado Highway 139 is closed between mile markers 12 to 39 both directions, Douglas Pass, due to a wildfire. The fire is putting off a lot of smoke, decreasing visibility.