No parking

“No parking” signs still stood at the Flying Heart Ranch on Thursday morning.

Though a judge granted the public the right to access the Big Wood River using a road easement in a north-Hailey subdivision earlier this month, several “No Parking” signs put up by local homeowners—and the question of their legality—remain.

In his declaratory judgment filed on Aug. 7, 5th District Judge Ned Williamson ruled that visitors have the right to park within a county road easement on Aspen Lakes Drive and the “No Parking” signs posted last summer by the Flying Heart Ranch Owners’ Association “impermissibly” obstructed that right.

But unlike an injunction, which prescribes a course of action, Williamson’s decision on the matter did not specifically state that the signs must be removed within a set period of time.

On Thursday morning, at least three signs reading “All parking is prohibited,” “No parking to access river” and “Unauthorized vehicles will be towed or booted” still stood along Aspen Lakes Drive. The owners’ association said it posted the notices last summer to counter an uptick in littering and trespassing by recreators passing through to reach the Big Wood River.

By press deadline on Thursday, Flying Heart Owners’ Association attorneys Ed Lawson and Gary Slette had not responded to requests for comment on whether the association intends to tow or boot vehicles from the pull-off areas within the easement.

Blaine County, joined by Silver Creek Outfitters, initially filed suit against the owners’ association last September, arguing that the signs created a significant burden to access the river and private landowners could not block access to public lands.

“The case is ongoing, and we hope to have it fully resolved soon,” said Chief Deputy Prosecutor Tim Graves, the county’s attorney, in a Monday email to the Express. “We ask that in the interim, people parking on Aspen Lakes Drive and utilizing the river easements respect private property and re-frain from littering, trespassing and excessive noise.”

In July 2019, a teenager who parked his father’s car along the right-of-way to go kayaking in the river reported during a county commissioners’ meeting that the vehicle had been towed, costing him $225 to reclaim.

Afraid of being towed, many fly fisherman have avoided the prime stretch of the Big Wood adjacent to Flying Heart since last summer, according to Mark Levin, a member of the local Hemingway chapter of Trout Unlimited.

“The trout habitat there is just incredible,” he said. “There’s a lot of holed-in water and woody structures that fish like.”

Levin noted that fishermen could park alongside state Highway 75. But that’s an unsafe option, he told the Express.

“You’re not going to drive in your dirty waders and boots. You have to park, sit on the back of your car and take your pants off while you have traffic whizzing by at a high speed,” he said. “Your car is exposed the whole time and you feel like a target. Then, you have to walk a third of a mile on black asphalt in the summer. That might seem like nothing, but for some 80-year-olds it’s extremely impractical.”

In a June 15 preliminary hearing, the court advised both the county and owners’ association to work together.

“I would simply ask everyone to take a deep breath and maybe talk to your clients further, and revisit discussion,” Williamson said at the time.

 Silver Creek Outfitters owner Terry Ring said though he believes the signs posted at Flying Heart Ranch are “intimidating” and “should be taken down,” he’s hopeful that both parties will be “empathetic and kind” to one another.

 “The case isn’t over,” Ring said. “I can’t speak for the homeowners or know what their next move may be.”

Attorney Sam Linnet, who represents Silver Creek Outfitters, wrote in a Thursday email to the Express that he would be “surprised” if the Flying Heart Owners’ Association towed any vehicles.

“It is Silver Creek Outfitters’ intention and hope to work collaboratively with the Flying Heart HOA to resolve these remaining issues and help repair relationships between the HOA and the public,” he wrote.

A pretrial conference intended to assist the parties in settling and discussing  possible injunctive relief—including a $100-per-day fine for leaving the signs up—is scheduled for Oct. 26.

If any factual disputes remain, the county and owners’ association will proceed to a five-day trial the week before Thanksgiving.

Email the writer: ejones@mtexpress.com

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