The May 20 issue of the Mountain Express contained an advertisement from Kiki Tidwell, an independent candidate seeking election to the Blaine County Board of County Commissioners in November. While Ms. Tidwell is not challenging pubic access and parking, she argues that the expenditures for legal and other services to preserve access and trailhead parking in Flying Heart are unjustified. In her view, less expensive and better results could be obtained through “reasonable negotiations.” On behalf of the board of the Hemingway Trout Unlimited chapter, we strongly disagree.
The right to public access and related parking were preserved more than 40 years ago when the county approved the Flying Heart Ranch subdivision conditioned on, among other things, these easements. Suddenly last year, the Flying Heart HOA unilaterally erected “no parking” signs along Aspen Lakes Drive and at the two parking areas at the heads of the two river access easements. Violators’ vehicles would be towed. The chapter opposed the actions of the HOA and encouraged the county commissioners to fight to protect public access by enforcing the easements and the included public parking rights.
Initially, the commissioners advised the HOA that the river access easements included parking rights and asked that the signs be removed. The HOA ignored the commissioners’ request and refused to engage in “reasonable negotiations.” When the HOA refused to negotiate, the commissioners sought to enforce the right to public access parking through litigation. The chapter supported the board’s decision to litigate because we feared a weak county response or apparent toleration of the HOA’s unlawful encroachment would have far-reaching, long-term consequences. If others perceived they, too, could break the law of public access with impunity, other public easements throughout the valley would be put at risk.
We believe the commissioners were right to adopt these easements decades ago. The board is right today to take all necessary steps to protect these rights.
There are times when the commissioners need to defend the rights of the public when private parties seek to infringe on those rights. There are times when defense of these rights requires the expenditure of public funds. This is one of them. We strongly support the commissioners’ actions here.
Alan Richardson, President, Hemingway chapter Trout Unlimited