OURAY, Jan. 2, 8:11 a.m. – Two documents currently being finalized will empower multiple agencies in the
The first document is a Memorandum of Understanding that will create a “partnership” between public land managers, members of the recreation community – including motorized and non-motorized users, and
The purpose of the agreement is to “preserve and protect” trails “at risk of disappearing,” and with that historic public access into perpetuity.
The Memorandum of Understanding provides for “acquisition of necessary easements” from private landowners, negotiation, reciprocal easements as may be acquired by the county through its development processes, and the United States Forest Service through “any appropriate regulations permitting land trades.”
The scope of the work ahead, done in a collaborative fashion, encompasses identifying those trails or roads that are most at risk; prioritization of specific public trails and roads; addressing immediate threats to a given trail or road; developing possible funding mechanisms for acquisition or assertion of rights-of-way; and assertion of a claim of right, if necessary.
But Ouray County Commissioner Don Batchelder added a qualifier, saying the county is merely reserving its right to litigate, if necessary. “It’s not an assumption,” said Batchelder. “Nor would we try to resolve a pissing match by wanting the county to settle it. No!”
The agreement provides that the public land managers retain their authority to make decisions about the assertion of rights to public trails or roads and to improvements to public trails and roads within their jurisdictions.
Parties to the agreement include:
A second document, a draft resolution “defining public roads within Ouray County,” is declaratory in scope, cementing the county policy to engage in the process of protections that “will serve notice on private property owners that all public roads or ‘public ways’ located within Ouray County that have not previously been formally vacated or abandoned by the Board of County Commissioners will be designated as ‘public highways’ or ‘public roads’ and are open to the public.”
Included in that category are highways, roads, mining roads, logging roads, wagon roads, trails, horse trails, hiking trails, and foot paths.
Additional tweaking of legal verbiage and the correction of an oversight that omitted the Bureau of Land Management as a signatory on the documents delayed the approval and signing of he Memorandum of Understanding. The documents are expected to be signed in the next few weeks.
One major challenge for the signatories will be addressing future mining operations, which are experiencing a resurgence in the area.
“We will compile a history for the Department of Justice and work with [
Unexpected road closures have occurred in recent years by property owners through the use of gates.
“Throughout most of the past 130 years of history
All interested parties are now submitting detailed documents including ancient maps, lengthy lists of trails and trail guides, mining roads and mountain passes dating back to the mid 1860s. The materials will be used to compile and eventually log into the public record a comprehensive listing of all trails and roads where it is determined that access has survived as a matter of public right.
“Trails and roads are at risk,” Batchelder said. “Trails and roads have an economic benefit to the county. It is all of the parties’ best interest to preserve those and identify all motorized and non-motorized trails; then prioritize those that are at risk; then take any action to ensure that they remain in the public domain.”
The next workshop is set for Wednesday, March 12, at the county land use building at which time a final Memorandum of Understanding draft will be reviewed and approved, a spread sheet produced and a budget estimate given to cover research and staff time attributable to data collection and publication.