County claims trails, roads on national forest

Thursday, June 21, 2018 7:20 PM
The Bear Creek Trail is slated to change from single-track motorized to nonmotorized use under a pending management plan of the San Juan National Forest.
As part of an effort to support motorized trail use, the Montezuma County Board of Commissioners passed a resolution that asserts county jurisdiction of 17 national forest roads and trails, including the Bear Creek Trail.

After analyzing historic maps, the Montezuma County Board of Commissioners asserts that numerous routes on the San Juan National Forest are under the jurisdiction of the counties where they are located, and not under federal government control.

The commissioners passed a resolution Monday claiming that 17 roads and trails are county-controlled rights of ways because they were established and mapped before the creation of the local national forest in 1905.

The routes cross through Montezuma and Dolores counties, and partly into San Miguel and La Plata counties.

“We’re reminding the national forest that these routes are, and have been, under the jurisdiction of the county they lie in,” said James Dietrich, county public lands coordinator.

The routes listed as under control of various counties are: Dolores-Norwood Road, Morrison Trail, Bear Creek Trail, Sharkstooth Trail, Indian Trail Ridge (Colorado Trail), Pasture Gulch, Ryman Creek, Priest Gulch Trail, Calico South, Burnett Creek Trail and Road, Eagle Peak Trail, Horse Creek Trail, Horse Gulch Road, Calico Basin Trail, Calico North Trail, Papoose Creek Trail and Johnny Bull Trail.

The routes all show up on U.S. Geological Survey maps dating from the 1890s, Dietrich said.

Typically, when counties claim jurisdiction of federally listed routes, they are required to go through a legal process and prove up their claims under Revised Statute 2477. A judge makes a final determination of jurisdiction.

But Montezuma County says the process should be the other way around.

“The commissioners’ position is that the national forest has to prove the routes are not under county jurisdiction,” said Dietrich.

He said one intent of the resolution is to preserve motorized routes in the Rico-West Dolores section of the forest that are slated to become nonmotorized only, such as on the Bear Creek Trail.

The commissioners have not decided what the next step will be beyond the resolution.

The San Juan National Forest does not recognize the routes in the resolution as under county control. Forest officials state the process for a county claiming jurisdiction on a federally designated route requires court action initiated by the county and a court ruling.

While the commissioners and motorized trail users support the right of way resolution, others were more skeptical.

“The commissioners should schedule a public hearing to inform taxpayers about the costs and benefits of this action and their plan to pay for ongoing maintenance of these additional roads,” Ellen Foster said during public comment.

MB McAfee, who is seeking election to the Board of Commissioners, is concerned about the costs of litigation against the federal government.

“You have not discussed possible costs, (or) set aside funds for the RS 2477 lawsuits,” she said. “Wresting land away from the federal government is not an easy or cheap task.”