« Return to this article

Know the West

The Latest: Utah loses Salt Creek road suit


Revised Statute 2477, passed in 1866, allowed settlers to build highways across public land. Western counties later exploited it to reopen and maintain abandoned routes, even in national parks and wilderness study areas ("The road to nowhere," HCN, 12/20/04). In 2004, Utah and San Juan County filed an R.S. 2477 suit to reopen the Salt Creek route in Canyonlands National Park to vehicles. Seven years later, a district court denied the claim. The state and county appealed. They spent more than $1 million fighting the case.

On April 25, Utah lost this major road-war skirmish when a federal appeals court upheld the denial. Legal experts say the decision raises the bar for R.S. 2477 claims: Use of Salt Creek by cattle ranchers, prospectors and tourists was not enough to establish the "continuous use" required for a public highway. However, the Utah attorney general's office intends to keep battling for local control over 14,000 other roads on public lands across 22 counties.