Latest: Utah counties claim access to old roads

A convoluted legal battle takes a step forward.

  • An old mining track claimed as an RS 2477 right of way by San Juan County.

    Ray Bloxham/SUWA

Revised Statute 2477, passed in 1866, gave pioneers the right to build roads across public land to encourage settlement.
Western counties later exploited it to claim long-abandoned routes for motorized travel, even in national parks and wilderness study areas (“The road to nowhere,” HCN, 12/20/04). In 2011, 22 Utah counties began asserting R.S. 2477 rights to 36,000 miles of rural roads; some of those routes are no more than cow paths, environmental groups say.

The federal government had long argued that Utah’s road claims were not valid because they were filed years after a state deadline for “quiet title” claims had passed. But in late July, Utah’s Supreme Court called that argument “overwhelmingly absurd” and ruled that counties can continue to pursue their R.S. 2477 road claims. To win in court, they’ll have to prove that a road was continuously open to public use for 10 years prior to 1976, when the statute was repealed.


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