Garfield County research identifies historic routes and public rights of way

Signs will identify routes established and documented on historical maps

September 30, 2014

GARFIELD COUNTY, CO – During September, Garfield County began installing road signs defining public access along historic rights of way in the county. The signs are intended to inform the public where historic routes exist.

Garfield County hired Land Acquisitions Manager Glenn Adams six months ago to research and inventory existing public land access points and easements.

“In the first stage of this research, Adams is using historic and current documents to identify historic routes,” said Garfield County Attorney Frank Hutfless. “This research of existing easements and access will be used by Garfield County to help assure access to public land.”

Mapping of historic routes in this area began with the Hayden Survey of 1877 and then the General Land Office Survey of 1882-1909. Garfield County Road Map of 1888, the White River Plateau Timber Reserve Map of 1898 and the Battlement Mesa Forest Reserve map of 1898 are also key maps for the research Adams has conducted.

“These resource maps give us a window into the history of Garfield County and the travel routes that were historically used for horse, foot, wagon and trading routes. Native Americans used some, and then the Homestead Act of 1862 and the Desert Land Act of 1877 encouraged settlement by homestead in Garfield County,” said John Martin, Garfield County Commission chair. “These routes have not changed significantly. Identifying them is a method of making the documented mapping come to life for citizens to know where public access exists because of the establishment of historic rights of way.”

“Garfield County is conducting the work in an effort to preserve legal public land access and to educate public lands users on where historic routes exist. All of the roads identified for signage are on at least one of the historic maps, and some of them are on all of the maps,” said Adams. “The signs will demonstrate routes that continue to exist today and help preserve them for future access. In some cases, the access has been maintained through ‘prescribed use’, meaning that they have been in use by the public for 20 years or more.”

Similar efforts are occurring across western states, as challenges to public land access have led to the need to document historic routes and to preserve travel across them.

Adams is working with the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management to get signage approval for routes that lead from county roads onto federal lands. He is also working with the agencies as they develop and/or amend their travel management plans. “We have a good cooperating relationship with these agencies; and these relationships, along with relationships with private landowners, are keys to our success in maintaining public land access,” said Adams. “Motorized use is not the driving force in our efforts, but access by whatever means as deemed appropriate by the public land agency and/or private land owner is.”

The research and signage is not to challenge ownership of any roads or lands, but is simply directed to preserve the historic routes that exist within Garfield County. The county will install these signs in stages, the first stage being on roads currently listed as county roads.

The approximately 12″ x 18″ signs features a photo of a horse-drawn wagon hauling a boiler to the Flat Tops area via the Cemetery Road north of New Castle. The photo was taken circa 1886 along one of the historic routes, and was provided courtesy of the Frontier Historical Society. The new signs state the words “Garfield County Historic Right of Way” and “public access.”