A public road winds bends along a small creek near De Beque, Colorado.

Disputed roads near De Beque again open to the public

September 3, 2021

For the second time in less than a year, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals has rejected High Lonesome Ranch’s effort to prevent public access to sections of the North Dry Fork and Middle Dry Fork roads near De Beque. The ranch had recently locked a gate within the boundary of its property prohibiting access to the public roads during its appeal to the court.

“The ranch has not met its burden for a stay pending appeal,” the court ruled on Sept. 2, 2021. “Accordingly, we lift the temporary stay entered on August 20, 2021, deny the ranch’s renewed motion for a stay, and deny as moot the ranch’s emergency motion.”

On Dec. 22, 2020, U.S. District Court Judge Brooke Jackson issued a 68-page ruling in favor of Garfield County and against the ranch, confirming that both roads are public. The ranch is appealing the December ruling and its opening appellant brief was filed on June 22, 2021. Garfield County’s answer brief was filed on Aug. 24, 2021, and the parties have requested oral argument, but no date has yet been set.

These roads provide access to roughly 50,000 to 90,000 acres of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) public land beyond the ranch, the December ruling noted.

“It is important that the public knows the roads are open,” said Garfield County Attorney Tari Williams. “We want to eliminate any confusion that may have been caused by the ranch’s effort to prevent the public from being able to use these roads to access these lands so close to hunting season. The roads are open, but at the same time, it is important to be aware that these roads are in the area heavily damaged by fire and subsequent rain events.”

Due to damages wrought by last year’s Pine Gulch Fire, during rainfall there is the potential for flash floods and high-volume debris flows in the area accessed by these roads. Check the Garfield County Emergency Operations Center website at garfieldcounty.net for flash flood alerts and updates.

The roads are public rights-of-way under Revised Statute (R.S.) 2477, which was enacted as part of the Mining Act of 1866 to encourage highway development in the west. The ranch had argued that the roads are privately owned. A section of North Dry Fork Road, also known as County Road 200, and Middle Dry Fork Road, which forks off the former, have existed in virtually the same routes since the late 1800s, according to the December ruling by Judge Jackson.

In deciding a motion for stay pending appeal, the court of appeals considers whether the ranch made a strong showing that it is likely to succeed on the merits; whether it will be irreparably injured absent a stay; whether issuance of the stay will substantially injure the other parties interested in the proceeding; and where the public interest lies.

The gate is now unlocked, allowing hunters and the general public to access the public lands beyond the ranch.

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