Havre Daily News
A pair of advocacy groups says Bullwhacker Road, which crosses Bill and Ronnie Robinson's property in the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument, falls under a nearly 140-year-old federal statute and is therefore a public road. The Robinsons consider the road private and have been requiring that the public seek their permission before using it.
In a meeting Thursday night attended by more than 60 hunters and other outdoor enthusiasts, representatives of the Montana Wildlife Federation and the Public Land and Water Access Association Inc. said they will likely take the issue to court after doing some more research. The groups sponsored the meeting.
The Robinsons, who ranch about 50 miles south of Chinook, began requiring permission to use the road after gates were left open and the roadway was damaged, Ronnie Robinson said in an interview earlier this week.
Bernard Lea, of the Public Land and Water Access Association, said an 1866 federal statute states that any road that existed before the adjacent land was patented - the process by which homesteaders were given title to their land under the Homestead Act - is to remain a public road. He showed the crowd a 1917 U.S. Surveyor General's Office map that shows the road following almost exactly the same route it follows today. Lea said he has been unable to find any adjacent properties that were patented prior to 1917.
”This road is in the same location as the road that is platted on the 1917 map. It qualifies as an RS2477,“ Lea said, referring to the federal statute. ”That's our opinion at this point in time. All we're contending, based on that information, is that it should be open to the public.“
Robinson, who was not at the meeting, said today that she doesn't think the 1917 map depicts the area in question.
”It's not the exact same location,“ she said.
Lea said there is still more research to be done. He showed the crowd how to examine old county documents to find information about the road. ”We are preparing a case,“ he said. ”We will take this to court.“
Blaine County Attorney Yvonne Laird could not be reached for comment. Blaine County does not consider the road a county road and has not maintained it.
Lea told the group that the matter will be settled by a judge. Until then, he encouraged people to obey the Robinsons' wishes.
”We do not condone confrontations,“ he said. ”Obey what is out there now.“
Montana Wildlife Federation conservation director Larry Copenhaver said the purpose of Thursday's meeting was to educate people.
”We've got the conversation started,“ he said. ”I think we'll get it resolved.“
Copenhaver said the road is the only access to as much as 100,000 acres of the more than 374,000-acre monument. Not allowing the public to freely travel the road is a detriment, he said.
”It really crimps the public's ability to access the monument,“ Copenhaver said.
Robinson said today she has only denied access to some people ”due to confrontational situations.“
In a November interview, Robinson said she had refused permission to one group of people who had been caught trespassing in the area a couple of times and were found prowling around the residence and to another person who called her names during a telephone conversation.
Havre residents Chuck Daulton and Mark Daniel said Thursday night that the Robinsons sometimes restrict access to the road.
”She doesn't always give permission,“ Daniel said. ”She's denied a whole bunch of people.“
Once, Robinson was going to let Daulton, Daniel and others on the property, but ”then she changed her mind,“ Daniel said.
”She told us not to try going in there again,“ Daulton said.
Robinson said today, ”Chuck Daulton and Mark Daniel were never denied permission. I have several copies of permission slips that we gave them.“
Ed Spinler of Havre said he believes the road should be open for public use. He hiked into the area in May after calling the Robinsons several times without successfully reaching them.
”You need to have some type of access,“ Spinler said. ”It belongs to all of us. This is a road that's been used for ages. I think it should continue to be used.“
Blaine County has had Bullwhacker Road listed on its gas tax rolls since at least 1960, but that may change for fiscal year 2007, Montana Department of Transportation inventory and mapping supervisor Zia Kazimi said today. MDT workers inventoried the road a month ago and are not including it on a map it will send to the Blaine County Commission because there are no-trespassing signs posted, he said. The County Commission will have a chance to comment before a decision is made.
”We see if the road is open for public travel, period,“ Kazimi said. ”When we see a no-trespassing sign - legitimate or illegitimate - we stop. We are not in the policy of determining whether it's a public or private road.“