Access denied to county open space
BLUE RIVER ” A red sign with white lettering on the McCullough Gulch Reserve property spells out the town of Blue River’s decision to deny public access to the historic trail.
The sign reads “Private Property,” and the Blue River Board of Trustees intends to keep it that way.
While Blue River residents are permitted to drive snowmobiles and other motorized vehicles along the trail, the rest of Summit County has no lawful access to the historic route ” motorized or nonmotorized.
“The developer of the property is now closing off access, so the public will have no means of getting from the trailhead to the forest,” assistant county manager Thad Noll said.
According to Mayor Darcy Lystlund of Blue River, the county requested nonmotorized access, but Blue River has a lot of residents who use the area for snowmobiling.
Todd Robertson, director of the county’s Open Space Trails program, said the public can access the area a few miles south on Highway 9.
However, without legal public entry along the historic access route, non-Blue River residents have no legitimate way to get from Highway 9 to national forest lands in McCullough Gulch, making the county’s open space property obsolete, according to a county report.
Summit County owns open space and the trailhead parking lot adjacent to McCullough Gulch. The area between the open space and trailhead is private property.
According to a county report, the public has been using the historic access from the trailhead through the McCullough Gulch Reserve for years. County staff secured the access through discussions with the owners.
Access had not been formally granted, because the owner first wanted approval of a development request.
Regarding the proposed McCullough Gulch Reserve development, the county presented two items to Blue River’s trustees for approval. The old Timberline Valley Subdivision is part of the reserve’s application. The first was a request for Blue River to abide by the Joint Upper Blue Master Plan and require transfer of development rights (TDR) if the development is approved. The town accepted the motion.
The second item dealt with the access rights to U.S. Forest Service land from the county’s McCullough Gulch parking lot.
In a 6-0 decision, the Blue River trustees board turned down the request by the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) to provide an easement for the public to have nonmotorized access to the trail.
“We didn’t change anything or deny anyone access,” Lystlund said. “The easement has always been for motorized access for Blue River residents ever since the subdivision was planned.”
As with the Blue Goose Tarn in Blue River, the Summit County Sheriff’s Office is responsible for enforcing the no trespassing rule for non-Blue River residents. However, monitoring usage to ensure the area is only used by Blue River residents may be difficult. Some law enforcement may not even be aware of the measure.
“I’m sure (the public) actually does have access to the (historic route),” Lystlund said. “Nobody is out there policing it or enforcing it. It’s not like we have a police officer sitting out there.”
Summit County Sheriff John Minor was asked how his department was policing the area. Will they stop everyone and ask for proof of residence? Driver’s license, recent phone bill, property title?
“I’ll have to look into that further,” Minor said. “Do some research on it myself.”
Summit County’s open space program began in 1995, and one of its main priorities was to secure legal access from Highway 9 to national forest lands at McCullough Gulch. The access route from Highway 9 to the national forest crossed two pieces of private property ” one in the unincorporated county and one in Blue River.
The county would need to obtain both pieces of land in order to gain access.
Summit County acquired the McCullough Gulch Trailhead as open space property in the unincorporated county in 1995 for $150,000. In turn the county was awarded an open space grant from Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO).
However, the owner of the property in Blue River accepted a competing offer in 1995.
Jennifer Huffman can be contacted at (970) 668-3998, ext. 248, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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