Bullets, Oil, Fire

 

This Land Is Their Land” exposes the problems of blocked access, but frames it in terms of landowners vs. access seekers. I have been on both sides of the issue, and I understand that it is not that simple.


Like many residents of Albuquerque’s wildland-urban interface, I live a 10-minute walk from public land that connects to the wilderness. Unfortunately, developers have made access difficult for hikers, even though people have walked up the arroyos for centuries.


Our arroyos are now platted into private lots. Our closest formal public access requires that we drive to a paved lot several miles away (when it is open). In an age of permissive open-carry rules, combined with “make-my-day” laws for confrontations on private property, unresolved prescriptive easements are potential gunfight zones. Still, hikers walk up the arroyos.


I have been on the other side of the issue, too, in Boulder County, Colorado. For decades, I and my predecessors granted low-impact users permission to traverse a wild single-track trail and creek bed near homes. Sometime in the 1990s, the trail was taken over by gun-toting motorcycle, ATV and four-wheel-drive users who widened it, created new tracks and built unauthorized fire rings.


When I closed it to motorized use, local Jeep clubs forcibly re-opened it, claiming that I had illegally blocked a “public highway.” Boulder County refused to enforce trespassing laws, even though there was no recorded easement (inverting the standard burden of proof). No government entity filed any access claim, but it still appeared on Forest Service maps, even though on private property.


My only recourse was to make it physically impassable and to win a lawsuit. The victims of the standard all-or-nothing access mentality were the traditional day hikers and birdwatchers who can no longer hike in a place that was ruined by the bullets, oil and fire of those who treated as if it were their land, all their land, and only their land. Now it is de facto wilderness, unused even by me.


Mark Boslough
Albuquerque, New Mexico