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Hughes Creek Road - Bitterroot National Forest.

Challenge by Ravalli County Fish and Wildlife Assn.

May 26, 2009

Ravalli County Board of Commissioners Ravalli County Courthouse
215 South 4th Street, Suite A
Hamilton, MT 59840-2853

Dear County Commissioners:

It has been brought to our attention that the Hughes Creek Road is closed off on its upper end. We have been up there and there is a locked non-forest service gate across it. It is located 8.7 miles up the road from the West Fork Road. This gate blocks access to public lands and a designated trailhead on the Bitterroot National Forest. This road was designated a public road on June 15, 1900. It is against the law for a public road to have a gate on it that blocks access to public land. MCA 7-14-2608C 3 reads as follows: The Board may not abandon a county road or right-of-way used to provide existing legal access to public land or waters, including access for public recreational use as defined in 23-2-302 and as permitted in 23-2-302 unless another public road or right-of-way provides substantially the same access.

Also, any road served by two or more individuals must have the unanimous consent of all landowners. MCA 7-14-2608C 4 reads the Board may not abandon a county road or right-of-way used to access private land if the access benefits two or more landowners unless all of the landowners agree to the abandonment.

We have discussed this situation with Dave Campbell the District Ranger on the West Fork. This road closure prevents them and the public from getting to the trailhead. The Forest Service cannot get back there to do their management activities and it prevents access to fight wildfires. Perhaps they could work in a cooperative manner with the County Commissioners to get this road opened.

A Fish, Wildlife and Parks warden, Joe Jacquith, was in chase of a violator and he got behind that gate and escaped. We understand that he came out later and was arrested, but this closure complicated an enforcement problem.

We have in our hands a copy of the original road declaration and the history up to October 19, 1988, when the County Attorney at the time sent a letter to the Commissioners indicating that he was not going to pursue opening the Hughes Creek Road. Since then the public demand for access to these public lands has increased, especially with the great increase in population.

This road has not been abandoned. A private individual or entity has a locked gate on it. The Ravalli County Fish and Wildlife Association is an organization dedicated to wildlife, fish, birds, the wise use of our natural resources and access to our public -owned lands to recreate on. This closure prevents us and the public from accessing an area of prime fish and wildlife habitat. This is unacceptable, and we believe that resolution of this problem can be achieved by your Board.

Enclosed are copies of the original road declaration making it a public road, a copy of the original Commissioners Journal, the attempts to have it abandoned, the refusal by the County Commissioners to abandon it on October 14,1982 and the history up to October 19,1988. The Ravalli County Fish and Wildlife Association request that you aggressively pursue opening the Hughes Creek Road. Thank you for your help.

Tony Jones, President
Ravalli County Fish and Wildlife Association
Cc: Montana Wildlife Federation Public Land Water Access Ravalli County Attorney

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Public Land/Water Access Association Inc. or PLWA, is a citizen group organized and operated under the Montana nonprofit corporation act.

Articles and Information on this site represent the opinion of the writer and are not intended as legal advice. Legal counsel may be needed in dealing with specific access situations and issues.
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