The encroachment of a landowner’s garage onto a Forest Service road blocking access to public land on the Big Sky-area route has finally been resolved.
Texas lobbyist Stan Schlueter has agreed to build a new road around and through his property to provide access to Custer Gallatin National Forest land, resolving a dispute that had dragged on for years.
The Bozeman Ranger District announced Tuesday that it has “recently completed and finalized a new easement and road segment on the West Fork Loop Road (Forest Road 166B).”
The area is popular for nonmotorized recreation and connects to a groomed ski trail for a portion of the Lone Mountain Ranch trail system. The agreement comes two years after a proposed easement exchange withered under public disapproval and more than a decade after the encroachment was first brought to light.
“We are pleased to have a positive outcome that continues public access in a manner similar to what forest users have come to know,” said Lisa Stoeffler, Bozeman District ranger, in a press release. “We understand that access to public land is a precious and valuable resource for residents and visitors of this area.”
Stoeffler went on to “thank the Schlueter family for working through some tough issues and long negotiations to get to this point.”
“We appreciate the Forest Service working in good faith to negotiate this new right-of-way,” said Stan Schlueter in the press release. “It’s important for people to understand that this road runs entirely across private land and the adjacent land is private, not public. It is also important for people to understand that this new public route was privately financed and not paid for with taxpayer dollars.”
The road is available for winter ski use immediately through Lone Mountain Ranch grooming and will be available as an open motorized road during the snow-free season.
Forest Road 166B, a looped road, provides access to the North Fork Trailhead for nonmotorized recreation opportunities including mountain biking, hiking, running and accessing public lands to the Spanish Peaks, Lee Metcalf Wilderness, Bear Basin (#16) and multiple connecting trails.
The Schlueter family financed the construction of the replacement road section and the Forest Service split the costs of finalizing the easement documents.
Prior to the land exchanges in Big Sky, much of this land ownership was a checkerboard of national rorest and private timber lands. Roads and easements were shared between the land owners in order to provide access to the “every other section” land pattern. When the lands were consolidated, the Forest Service reserved rights on selected roads to provide necessary public and administrative access to the National Forest. That is how Forest Road 166B, a Forest System Road, came to exist entirely on private land yet still provided important public access.