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County Officials Deny Access To Public Land

Broadwater county declined to open the roads and now are forcing this citizen to take the matter up in court. 

County Officials Deny Access To Public Land

County Officials Deny Access To Public Land

By Tim Ravndal

Protection of the rights of the people is founded with local government.  It is at the City and County level where the people elect their representatives to ensure that their rights are protected without compromise.  Unfortunately those rights also fall into the hands of college educated legal professionals.

From the beginning, when Montana became a State, local government was established to administer the affairs of the sovereign state.  In that process elected officials worked through a process to resolve disputes between citizens while recognizing the Constitutional Rights of everyone.

The discovery of gold in Montana triggered a surge of people that migrated to Montana.  The creation of counties and officials marked significant historic decisions throughout history.  The political battle over the control of Montana and its bountiful resources resulted in Montana being named the “Treasure State”.

On July 26, 1866 the “Mining Act” was passed. “An act granting the Right of Way to Ditch and Canal Owners over the Public Lands, and for other purposes.”

Red Hill Road

The Chaffee law of 1869 and the placer law of 1871 were combined into the General Mining Act of 1872. The mining law of 1866 had given discoverers rights to stake mining claims to extract gold, silver, cinnabar (the principal ore of mercury) and copper.

In that process  “Revised Statute 2477” was passed to clearly delineate the rights of ingress and egress to property and the delivery of water or goods across this country.

Back in March of this year we brought attention to an Access Case in Broadwater County where the rights of the people were being discussed.  This case has been back and forth between the County Commissioners and the courts now for several years.

Local government officials were approached to follow the process prescribed to reopen a county road that had been closed but never abandoned.  The multiple roads in the area were historically used to provide access to private and public land and for delivery of goods from Fort Benton across the mountains.

When the Missouri River was damned creating Canyon Ferry Lake, the established river crossings were flooded.  This triggered partial automatic elimination of several segments of roads leading to and from the river crossings.

Another factor that the people are seeing is public land access is lost due to the creation of defacto wilderness areas.  Special interest groups like the Nature Conservancy, Wildlife Federation, Wilderness Association all get a seat at the table and lock it up!

In Broadwater County, a long time ranch sold a majority of their holdings to the Nature Conservancy and placed this land into defacto wilderness.  The McMaster ranch located on the south end of the Spokane Hills encompassed most of the roads from the ferry crossings providing the link to Helena and beyond.

In that acquisition, the negotiations failed to recognize one of the private property inholdings that depended upon these roads.

Joe Schmaus and his family brought attention to the fact that the county roads in the area were never abandoned.  These roads historically provided access to his private property.  Mr. Schmaus approached the county to reopen the county roads in the area.  In that process his requests were denied forcing him to file action in court for relief.

The citizens also looked at the public land in the Spokane Hills and saw the lost access because of closed county roads.  A petition was presented to the county commission for consideration to open two of the roads into the area.

The county commissioners under advisement from the county attorney declined to open the roads and now are forcing Mr. Schmaus to take the matter up in court.  Under the rights of the people to own property in Montana, ingress and egress from that property is protected.

It is documented in the proceedings that the citizens petition is in order and the decision by the elected officials may also be prime for litigation.

We will continue to follow this story as it will work its way through the courts holding elected officials accountable to the constitutional rights of the people.

Public Land
photo courtesy of


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