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Bullwhacker Road (2011)

Ranchers sue over Bullwhacker road

Courtesy of Billings Gazette

Bullwhacker road case ignites again -

It is unfortunate the landowners are choosing to pursue this, as it is a clear case of a historic "public highway ". PLWA is confident the public interest will prevail in the long run. See comments by PLWA officers in story below.

Hunters need to get behind the PLWA effort ! They are the ones who are losing their choice spots due to privatization of access. The Bullwhacker area is one of the premier spots in the US for Big Horn Sheep , trophy elk and deer.

Ranchers sue over road on property
By BRETT FRENCH Of The Gazette Staff | Posted: Saturday, October 24, 2009 11:45 pm
A ranch couple sued Blaine County on Thursday to have a portion of a road through their property declared private.
William and Olive Robinson claim the county had no basis for its claim in 2007 that the 3.8-mile section of the Bullwhacker Road was public where it crossed their Anchor Ranch, which they have owned since 1955.
The road provides access to an estimated 50,000 acres of Bureau of Land Management land, roughly 78 square miles. The land is north of the Missouri River and is valued by hunters for its elk, deer and bighorn sheep hunting.
The Robinson's had controlled access to the road for many years prior to County Attorney Donald Ranstrom's ruling. The couple had a sign-in box at the gate and in a press release said controlling access reduced vandalism to their property.
But this year the BLM erected a sign near the Robinsons' gate noting the road was a public route. Someone shot up the Robinsons' private property sign. The Robinsons are seeking a declaratory judgment that the road is private. The suit also seeks attorney costs and fees incurred by the lawsuit.
"This has been an ongoing problem for some time," Ranstrom said. "It always comes to a head during hunting season because the road accesses a huge amount of public land."
Ranstrom said he would file a response to the claim, which would be followed by a discovery period.
"Then I'm sure there will be a lot of back and forth," he said.
Judge John McKeon will preside over the case.
The county was urged to declare the road public by the Public Lands/Waters Access Association, a nonprofit group that seeks public access to public lands. The group researched historical records and found the Bullwhacker Road had been used by the public as far back as 1917. The group further documented that the earliest land patent for acreage now owned by the Robinsons was filed in 1926. Patents secured land ownership under the Homestead Act, used to settle the West in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Bernard Lea, who researched the roadway for PLWA, said in 2007 that if the road existed prior to the land being patented, the road is public road.
PLWA turned its research over to Ranstrom, shortly after he was elected, and pushed to have the road declared a public route.
"We believe there is a prescriptive easement that has been established over many, many years of use," Ranstrom said. "It's been in existence for a long time."
According to documents filed by the Robinsons, they own land with a patent that goes back to 1923 as well as parcels patented in 1926. The documents also claim there is no evidence in Blaine County's records that show the Bullwhacker Road was ever established as a county road under state law.
When notified of the lawsuit, John Gibson, president of PLWA, said, "Let's go to court."
The Robinsons did not return a phone call seeking comment.

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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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