Fly-fishermen, outfitters and conservation advocates lashed out against parking restrictions implemented by landowners in Flying Heart Ranch on Tuesday, as the Blaine County commissioners weighed their next steps in restoring easy access to the Big Wood River north of Hailey.
The board has scheduled a public hearing for Tuesday, Aug. 6, at 4 p.m. to hash out the issue. But it got a preview Tuesday as some 30 members of the public showed up at a meeting for the one item on the agenda.
“Everybody wants us to take a stand, and fight for public access,” Commissioner Jacob Greenberg told the room. “To me, public access means public parking. In no way will I sign any document that gives away rights we have to access that area, or any other area.”
That means that a proposal from Flying Heart’s homeowners association to establish a parking area closer to state Highway 75 on Aspen Lakes Drive likely won’t be enough to appease the board—or its vocal constituents who frequent the river. After a 45-minute executive session to meet with county attorney Tim Graves, Greenberg and Commissioner Dick Fosbury instructed him to make a counteroffer: two designated parking areas, immediately adjacent to the public easements laid out in Flying Heart’s 40-year-old plat. (Commissioner Angenie McCleary was absent.) Until now, cars have been parked along the road.
“We heard the public comment,” Fosbury said. “People want to park reasonably close to the river access.”
The HOA’s solution was about a third of a mile away, he said.
The commissioners also requested that representatives of Flying Heart respond by next week’s meeting.
Prior to installing the no-parking signs in June, Flying Heart residents complained of litter and trespassing on private property near the river.
While Aspen Lakes Drive and the land around it are private, the public “shall have access to the roads and river,” according to a plat note written when the subdivision was established in 1979. As part of that agreement, the county maintains a 15-foot easement parallel to the east bank of the Big Wood, with two public paths to get there. And, it has access to an 80-foot right of way along the street itself, Blaine County Code Compliance Specialist Kristine Hilt said.
Flying Heart Ranch Homeowners Association attorney Gary Slette could not be reached for comment by press time.
On July 9, the board instructed Graves to take legal action to have the signs removed. Fosbury seemed optimistic that the matter could be settled outside of court, though the overarching message to the board Tuesday was almost uniformly one-note: Push it as far as it takes.
“Efforts to shut down access to public land are a virus,” said Nick Miller, secretary of the Hemingway Chapter of Trout Unlimited. “If we don’t fight it here, soon it could pop up all over the valley. We need to lance this disease before it spreads.”