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For the week of September 27 through October 3, 2000

Public access dispute simmers north of Ketchum

Neighbors also object to helicopter access

Express Staff Writer

The landowner thinks he has the right to arrive by helicopter and keep the neighbors out; the neighbors think they have a right to drive across his land and to keep the helicopter out.

That’s the gist of a dispute brewing north of Ketchum.

The neighbors are trying to get reopened part of what is now treated as a private road that leads to the Big Wood River and national forest land seven miles north of town.

They claim as invalid a 1996 agreement made between Blaine County and Seattle resident Frank Everett allowing him to close the last 200 yards of Barlow road.

Everett owns a vacation home in the Barlow subdivision. Though the road may belong to the county, a subdivision plat in the mid 1950s shows it as part of what is now Everett’s land.

In a three-page statement, neighbors concerned about the closed Barlow Road say they also want to stop Everett from landing his helicopter in his backyard, which frightens neighbors, and is not safe, the neighbors claim.

Everett didn’t return a reporter’s telephone message left Friday with his housekeeper. The housekeeper said his employer was probably in Seattle but might fly his helicopter to the Wood River Valley at any moment for a visit.

Prompted by complaints, the Blaine County commissioners are scheduled to consider during a meeting tomorrow changing county code to prevent aircraft from landing in residential areas, something that is apparently legal now.

The road access situation has proven more difficult to solve.

In 1996, the county agreed to allow Everett to build a stone and metal gate across Barlow Road. In return, Everett granted the county a four-foot wide public pedestrian access easement around the gate and the right to plow snow to the end of the road during the winter.

Everett, according to the agreement and other county records, owns the road. But Commissioner Len Harlig, in an interview Monday, said the county might never have taken the official action necessary for the road to be sold to Everett.

Further complicating the ownership dilemma is the fact that the road was once a state highway and may still be owned by the state.

The 1996 agreement states that Everett must provide a sign that indicates the public access, but today, the sign does not exist. Without it, pedestrians wanting to reach Forest Service land from Barlow Road have no indication of what is private property and what is public.

Local resident Doug Christensen, during a telephone interview last week, said there is "a great deal of sentiment among people in the area who feel this is not only inappropriate, but illegal."

Christensen and another resident, Mary Jane Conger, have been working together on the issue for several years, Christensen said.

Blaine County Prosecuting Attorney Doug Werth is researching county and state records in an attempt to determine ownership. But it is not yet clear how or when the issue will be resolved.

What’s at stake, Christensen said, is not just the Barlow Road access. Whatever decision is reached about Barlow Road could affect other decisions about access to public land throughout the county, he said.

Conger and Christensen are longtime county residents. In their experiences, new people moving into the area want to block off public access for privacy, they said. But Conger and Christensen also claim that well established ranchers have successfully closed off pubic roads.

As an example, Conger said in a written statement, that sheep rancher John Peavey appropriated three miles of public river frontage road near Carey last summer. Peavey was able to do that, according to Conger, because the county had stopped maintaining the road. Now, Conger states, Peavey plans to sell the property.

In a telephone interview yesterday, Peavey confirmed that last summer he locked a gate that had previously been unlocked. But he said the road leading to the gate and the land around it was private.

"We’ve always let people come and go at will," he added. However, he said, he felt he had to prevent recent destruction of the land caused by a large number of campers who have abused the area by cutting down trees, building too many fire rings and leaving behind refuse.

Peavey said he is forced to sell the land because lenders will no longer invest in ranches like his that rely heavily on public land grazing. He said environmentalists had publicly discredited the ranches to such a degree that lenders no longer trust the ranches’ long-term economic viability.

Now, Peavey said, he is forced to sell the land to support other ranch operations.


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