Will the historic Crazy Mountains public access and trails survive another generation? More importantly, will Trail 267 survive the next year?
On Jan. 31, Friends of the Crazy Mountains attended an unofficial meeting to discuss a draft trail relocation proposal by landowners Ned and Cindy Zimmerman. In a nutshell, the proposal recommends the upper half of Forest Service Trail 267's obliteration, rerouting it east, to the higher peaked elevations. Supposedly, this proposal is to resolve public access conflicts, due to the landowner's blocking historic public access. FOCM does not support the draft proposal and here's why.
Just as no one expects a private landowner to give up their historic water rights, the public landowners should not relinquish our deeded and historic prescriptive access rights without a fight.
Trail 267 is critical to the 100-year-old Porcupine Lowline Trail System, currently providing access by motorcycle, mountain bike, and snowmobile. Not only is Trail 267 a gradual scenic trail available to young and elderly hikers, it connects to other trails as additional access points, such as Trail 195, to the North Fork of Elk Creek. Additionally, not discussed, are the northern connections to Trail 258, crossing a part of Zimmerman land, from the Shields, and its connecting Trail 265, following the Shields River.
The private meeting did not provide any materials to those in attendance, before or during the meeting, comprised of about 25 attendees. Before the one Forest Service map of the draft proposal was even opened, revealing any details, the majority of those in attendance were supporting the draft proposal, and about 75 percent have not set foot on Trail 267, including the Forest Service deputy supervisor who presented the map. The one copy of the map was an outdated 1972 map, showing lower elevations. The old map visually downplayed rapid elevation changes, future erosion issues, destruction of critical wildlife habitat and maintenance required for public safety on some of the most difficult terrain in the Crazies.
These folks, attempting to make your public lands and access armchair decisions for the future, were doing so not based on any facts, deeds, historical prescriptive easement details, nor Forest Service history and official position statements. Why were so many of the hand-selected attendees eager to abandon this historic trail? Do they not understand the repercussion this could create on future litigation pertaining to access? The courts have ruled favorably when presented with similar historical and deed documentation proving public access.
It was stated the proposed reroute would cost more than $500,000. This alone alarms FOCM. At the Aug. 10, 2017, public meeting, Custer Gallatin National Forest Supervisor Mary Erickson stated, due to the fire season, their budget was depleted, no money to fund trails and maintenance. Erickson's assertion was corroborated recently by Leanne Marten, Forest Service Region 1 forester, in her Feb. 9 Missoulian guest column.
If there is money for a reroute, why not utilize it to maintain and defend our existing trails? If there are no monies, why would anyone support a draft proposal knowing it won't be funded? If the Forest Service cannot maintain what we already have, it's obvious this major reroute will never see the light of day and is simply a smoke and mirrors attempt to look like they are finally addressing public access.
March 13 meeting
FOCM and Enhancing Montana's Wildlife and Habitat are cosponsoring an informational, factual, transparent public meeting on from 6 to 8 p.m., on March 13, at Yellowstone Pioneer Lodge, 1515 W. Park St., Livingston. For more info, see www.emwh.org.