Monday, November 20, 2017
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County hopes to help regain public access to Green Lake

Looking for at least a temporary solution

By Mark Reaman

Gunnison County is dipping its toe into the controversy surrounding the road to the Green Lake Trail above Lake Irwin.

The county commissioners on Tuesday instructed county attorney David Baumgarten to continue to attempt to facilitate a solution among the Forest Service, owners of lands over which the road crosses, and others regarding the dispute of whether the road is public or not. The county has had several meetings in the last few weeks in an effort to find some sort of compromise, even a temporary one.

J.W. Smith, who owns mining claims about a mile above the lake, last summer closed the Forest Service road that cuts through his property and eventually allows people to get to Green Lake at the base of Ruby and Owen. Smith built a house on the property that he has owned for 17 years.

Smith said last summer that he had seen “exponential growth” in human and vehicle traffic heading to Green Lake, a popular destination for summer hikers and four-wheelers. People and vehicles would trespass and trample his property and he was tired of the issues so he put up a gate on his property.

At the time, Gunnison District forest ranger John Murphy said the agency does not have a “perfected access [a written easement] across these private properties.” But Murphy maintained that the agency’s position is that the public has a legal right to use that road to access national forest lands due to the historic use of the road.

Baumgarten said the commissioners hope he can help resolve the conflict and gave him direction this week to try to find at least a temporary solution.

“We have been holding discussions with the impacted landowners and we will continue those meetings in the hope of finding a resolution,” explained Baumgarten. “We have suggested they consider issuing the Forest Service a temporary recreational easement with certain conditions on the road that crosses the private property with no permanent concessions by anyone.”

Baumgarten said the commissioners concluded the county would be asked to step in and help resolve the conflict between the landowners and Forest Service at some point in the future if nothing was quickly accomplished, so the decision was made to give it a go sooner rather than later. The hope is to have some sort of public access to Green Lake by this summer.

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