County to rule on Dubois-area road Dec. 19; comment varies

Nov 28, 2017 By Daniel Bendtsen, Staff Writer

Fremont County Commissioners have agreed to decide Dec. 19 whether they will vacate Little Warm Springs Creek Road in Dubois as had been requested by 3 Spear Ranch.

Despite the road having been in the public domain, the ranch had blocked access to the road for the last decade, declaring it to be a "private drive."

Chris Stevens, who works for the ranch, said ranch owners believed the road had been private and had almost no public use.

Other Dubois residents, however, have argued otherwise, saying the road commonly was used to access a parcel of Bureau of Land Management acreage until the ranch blocked the road.

"The usage may have changed over the years, but the importance of public access has not changed," Margaret Wells wrote in a letter. "We have no way of knowing what the future may bring, but one thing we do know is that once it is lost, it is nearly impossible to get it back. Future planning should involve ATV/OTV use for trails or a trade that would benefit the Town of Dubois, as well as the Fremont County as a whole. ... In addition, this is an important ingress/egress for the Upper Little Warm Springs subdivision, in the event of a catastrophic event, such as the wildfire our area recently experienced."

Bunker Road example

Jeff Hansen, a landowner in Lander, urged commissioners not to "repeat the same mistakes" that he said the county made with the Bunker Road a few years ago.

In that dispute, when the county decided not to vacate a road outside Lander, it culminated in a lawsuit that went to the Wyoming Supreme Court.

That litigation, he said, was "extremely contentious and very expensive," and the county needs to understand what the public's interest is in keeping Little Warm Springs Creek Road.

"Do the right thing. Don't do what's politically expedient," Hansen said.

Public or private?

Dubois resident Joan Timchak suggested that increased public access would reduce property values while impacting mule deer migration.

Over the past few weeks, however, most Dubois residents sumbitting comments to the county board have said road ought to remain public.

Ted Knowles, a retired forest ranger, said maintaining access is increasingly important as governmental agencies continue to trend toward increasing road closures.

Nick Dobric, who sits on the county's public lands committee, said that if the road was vacated, the ranch should "provide something in the public interest in exchange."

"This could be access to public land through a different area of their ranch or another creative option that would benefit the public," he said.

Planner's opinion

Bill Miller, an attorney representing 3 Spear Ranch, said that if the road's current status were different, it's unlikely the county would ever consider a request to establish the road as a county road.

"I don't think I would receive a very favorable response because of the condition of the road," Miller said. "It doesn't give the public a better access than what they already have."

County commissioners so far have shown reluctance to vacate the road, and county planner Steve Baumann has told the county board he believes the road should remain public.

Commission chairman Travis Becker suggested that limited travel on the road occurred only because "the public had to find another route because their legal access was denied."

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