Constructive dialogue taking place
By Mark Reaman
A gate erected by a private property owner continues to deter public access along the road to Green Lake above Lake Irwin, but progress is apparently being made on at least a possible temporary solution: utilizing a recreational easement to allow pedestrian and mechanized (but not motorized) access to the road leading to Green Lake.
The county, the U.S. Forest Service and nearby property owners have been meeting regularly to try to work out a compromise that would restore access. While not yet settled, the idea of a temporary, two-year recreation easement is being considered. That would, in theory, give everyone time to try to work out a long-term solution.
Property owner J.W. Smith contends that he has the right to put up the gate and keep people from accessing Green Lake through his property. He installed the gate in August 2016. Smith has previously explained that the growth in hiking and vehicle traffic across the property expanded exponentially in recent years and trespassing issues became rampant when people went off the road to avoid extremely poor road conditions or take shortcuts. Thus Smith installed a gate across the road at the edge of his property. Other nearby property owners have expressed similar concerns. Smith is being sued by the Lake Irwin Coalition, a group of property owners in the area, to get the gate down.
“The county and the USFS continue to dialogue with the two litigation parties,” explained USFS Gunnison District ranger Matt McCombs. “Additionally, we met last week with the majority of the Green Lake Road land owners to discuss their interest in granting the county a temporary recreation easement under state statute. Such an easement would restore public access in the interim while the USFS, county and the larger community works out a long-term plan for durable, sustainable public access to Green Lake as well as the host of connected recreation related issues in the greater Irwin area.”
Gunnison county attorney David Baumgarten said the temporary recreation easement as proposed would allow pedestrian and mechanized access on the road but would not permit motorized travel. It would also protect landowners against liability if someone gets hurt while using the road and crossing their property. It would be implemented during the “non-snow” months.
“Look at it as a half-step measure,” Baumgarten said. “It could allow time for a longer-term solution to be worked out with the Forest Service.”
Baumgarten said the issue is important in the big picture as more people access the nearby backcountry and more people build houses where none were before. There are many such controversial access issues across the West and several more could easily emerge in the Irwin area, given the old mining claims and old USFS roads that cross the area.
Baumgarten and McCombs said discussions would continue with the hope of at least a temporary resolution in the near future.
“All the right people are talking and doing so earnestly. I’m optimistic we’ll get to a workable outcome,” said McCombs. “As I near my one-year anniversary here in the valley, these Gunnison Country people continue to excite me with their tangible commitment to working together to figure it all out, even when it’s hard.”
In the meantime, hiking access to Green Lake is still available by using the Scarp Ridge trail.