The two documents give the county and other participating agencies the power to monitor and, if necessary, intervene when a public right-of-way is gated or otherwise obstructed by a landowner. The move follows almost a year of workshops between county officials, the U.S. Forest Service and the recreation industry, both motorized and non-motorized, to draft legal documents and to identify and map over 232 miles of historic trails and roads.
The revitalization of the mining industry in the region has raised public access issues in areas where historic trails cross private lands, particularly mining claims. Ouray Mayor Bob Risch, a representative of the Ouray Trails Group, identified 16 trails that presently cross mining claims.
“Some of those trails were there before the mining claim was patented. I commend the commissioners for taking this on, and the documents are flexible enough that we won’t create problems we don’t want to see,” Risch said at the meeting.
The residential development of mining claims is also a factor in the preservation effort. “One of the great values is in educating the real estate community when it conveys a right to block off historic access. There have been people who were misled into taking an ancient road and turning it into a driveway,” said former commissioner Alan Staehle during the public hearing.
The first document, Resolution No. 2008-024, defines public roads within the county and declares that any “public roads or highway, mining roads, logging roads, wagon roads, trails, horse trails, hiking trails, and foot paths” that have been used continuously by the public are “vital to the economic well being, public welfare and flow of commerce in the region.”
The resolution enables the county to give the landowner of record a 30-day written notice requiring the removal of an obstruction from a protected right of way. If there is no compliance, the resolution allows the county to take further recourse “in any lawful manner that it deems appropriate.”
“This resolution doesn’t provide any specific action, only a process for maintaining public access,” said Commissioner Keith Meinert. “And it doesn’t address the appropriate use of these roads and trails.”
The process is designed to function through a partnership of public land management agencies. That partnership is authorized by the Memorandum of Understanding, which empowers individual agencies to assert rights to the public roads and trails “within their jurisdictions.” Ouray County, the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service, and other state and federal public land managers will be signatories of this document. Signatories also include user groups such as the Ouray Trails Group, the Ouray County Historical Society, the Thunder Mountain Wheelers, Western Slope Four Wheelers, and the Uncompahgre Valley Trail Riders.
Some of the responsibilities of the parties committed to the collaborative effort include the negotiation of reciprocal easements of rights-of-way “as may be acquired by the county through its development processes and the USFS or BLM through any appropriate regulations permitting land trades or exchanges,” the memorandum reads.
Other powers included in the scope of work are developing funding mechanisms, including grants, for acquisition or assertion of rights-of-way; protection of existing rights-of-way; and development of databases of trails and roads that will eventually be accessible by the county land use office, public lands agencies, the county assessor, real estate businesses, and the general public.