In a long-awaited decision, the Blaine County commissioners this week determined that a road west of Bellevue is a public right of way.

A hearing on Wednesday to determine whether the dirt road running through the bottom of Lee’s Gulch is public ended in the commissioners’ unanimously finding that it is and that it is in the public interest for the county to validate it.

Whether the road is public and owned by the county, completely private or a private road that allows public access has been a subject of debate since the early 1990s. The most recent iteration of the debate arose after landowner Richard Gouley put up a sign banning motorized traffic up the canyon, angering some people who use the road to access public lands.

Since October 2018, Blaine County has spent more than $60,000 on research costs and legal fees involving Lee’s Gulch, according to County Clerk JoLynn Drage.

The commissioners’ decision Wednesday came down to figuring out exactly when the road was established in the late 1800s and the extent to which it was used by the public during that period.

Next, the county will need to determine how the road can be used—whether it will allow motorized vehicles or be limited to pedestrian or equestrian use. The county plans to work in conjunction with the landowners and the BLM moving forward, Commissioner Jacob Greenberg said.

The commission will likely begin to discuss next steps in late July or early August, he said.

Email the writer: gkauffman@mtexpress.com

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