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Cherry Creek Road - Sweetgrass Cty
16,000 acres of public land at risk

PLWA Director Bernie Lea on Cherry Creek

Guest opinion: Learn where candidates stand on public access to public land

BERNARD LEA The Billings Gazette | Posted: Friday, October 29, 2010 12:10 am | (5) Comments
Citizens of the United States of America cannot travel from the Gulf of Mexico to the Canadian Border or from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Coast, without crossing private property on an easement granted by that private landowner to the public. Think about it, the minute you leave your private property you enter on to an easement granted from a private landowner to a public entity that allows you to travel across the private land. This is why the question has to be asked: Why are the last few miles to the public land closed to the public?

This is the case with Cherry Creek road south of Big Timber. The road history dates back to 1898. A ranger station was erected adjacent to the road on NFS land in about 1908 and torn down around 1930. The 1987 Gallatin National Forest Plan designates this access as a necessary national forest access. Since the late 1890s, there has been Forest Service administrative use and public recreational and commercial use of this road to access national forest lands. A Forest Development Road Cooperative Agreement between the Forest Service and Sweet Grass County from 1967 that designates the responsible party for maintenance on the entire length of the road.

Negotiations by Gallatin National Forest have been ongoing for seven years, offering a purchase, an easement purchase with additional cash or a land exchange. (All the state and federal land agencies have been great.) The landowners have been gracious and have been willing to listen to options, but no agreement has been reached.

In November 2007, the Forest Service prepared a “range of options” briefing paper to consider alternatives to regain the lost access into the Cherry Creek area. The only option left for the Forest Service to obtain an easement for an existing road across the private land, approximately one mile, is to use eminent domain. Before this process can be presented, a thorough analysis has to be completed. This process has been completed and is on file at the Gallatin National Forest office in Bozeman. It has been forwarded to the Department of Agriculture in Washington D. C. and is awaiting support from Sens. Jon Tester and Max Baucus and Rep. Denny Rehberg.

1 more try
In the interim, the Sweet Grass County Commissioners have agreed to make one more try with the landowners and see if they will grant them a public road easement for the road, which they are doing this month. I appreciate their willingness to engage in this issue, and hope for the best, however, if that is not successful, I will have no choice but to continue to press for condemnation to provide for public access, as everything else has been tried. It’s important that the public speak to their elected officials to let them know their interest in this access.

Before you vote please contact Rep. Rehberg and Dennis McDonald and ask their position on this situation. Also contact Sens. Tester and Baucus and ask them to support the Gallatin National Forest in this endeavor.

Bernard Lea of Billings is a member of the board of directors for Public Land Water Access Association.

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Cherry Creek

Cherry Creek Closure

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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