Researching Public Lands Access Can Be Difficult For The Public

Last edited on April 3, 2017

I'm a big proponent and activist for "Keeping Public Lands Public." I also understand respecting private landowner's rights is a part of that fight and it's why I do a lot of research into land ownership when planning a hike, fishing or an ATV outing. I expect to have full access to our public lands but do everything in my power to stay off rancher's, farmer's and John and Mary Doe's land when out in the wilds of Idaho. The research isn't always easy.

Keep Public Lands Public


Local Knowledge Can Be Misinformation

With warmer weather now upon us now, I have been out and about a lot more. I'm also more active in the planning stages of some cool local microadventures. And with that planning comes many conversations with other local outdoor people. Those conversations can be fruitful or fruitless.

"No one wants to give away the location of their secret fishing hole, campsite or mountain biking trail." - Bri Coggins

Local knowledge can be quite helpful for planning but all that information needs to be verified, run through a bull-meter and taken with a grain of salt. I've been told some whoppers, where the individual was obviously trying to obfuscate critical information about a place so I'd stay away. And then there are times where the information, or in these cases, misinformed could lead to ugliness and legal actions.

"Check out all the outdoor information you get from locals is the the only way to go. Sometimes locals go off of old worn out myths and that can get you into big trouble." - Carrie Connley

The Example

Recently I was told Syrup Creek Road, a dirt road close to my home, while posted is also legal to drive on if heading to all the public lands that the road leads to. That was one piece of information I wanted to believe. Free and easy access to new peaks and possibly a creek I might be able to hook a few brook trout would be sweet.

"No Trespassing - I Own Firearms and a Backhoe"

My Research

Idaho Parks & Recreation has a good interactive online map that contains some land ownership information. My county provides an online land ownership map for parcels too. I checked both and reaffirmed what I already knew ... the road is private property.

Next, I created a nice map and transferred it to my smartphone. That map had all the data I needed to talk with law enforcement agencies. I headed to the Elmore County Sheriff's Department offices in Mountain Home, Idaho.

The deputy sheriff I talked to wanted nothing to do with my map but knew of the road and location I was asking about legally trespassing through. He said, "Don't quote me but I think it's legal to drive on the road without landowner permission." He went on to say I should contact the BLM for an official ruling. And with that my local law enforcement agency became a useless resource.

The Bureau Of Land Management was next on my resource list and I called them. And then I emailed them.

The BLM Email


March 30, 2017

This email addressed to BLM_ID_FourRiversOffice@blm.gov is intended for “Martin” in the Four Rivers Field Office but anyone who can field my questions will do.

I would like to get an official BLM ruling on whether I can drive my truck or an ATV (legally registered) on Syrup Creek Road, a dirt road located north of Mountain Home, Idaho, in an effort to access BLM-managed lands.

In October 2016, I was on the road and encountered an open gate but with a private property sign posted near that gate. Please see the link to a Google Photos photograph that shows the sign at 43.2889833, -115.6776833 https://goo.gl/photos/cFPKiMFzBM82raXv9

The proposed activities I would like to take part in on these public lands include wildlife watching, fishing, hiking, and sightseeing.

I talked to an Elmore County, Idaho deputy sheriff on Monday, March 27, 2017, about access to the road in question. He was non-committal about the legality of driving the road past that sign post and gate. He indicated he “thought” it would be legal if I was attempting to access public land located off Syrup Creek Road. But he also said I should contact the BLM for the official guidance. That is what I am doing with this email/letter.

To better acquaint you with the road, lands, and area in question, I have created an online map. I also have the same data in a KMZ type file. The link to the map is: https://drive.google.com/open?id=14tYZneDO4o8Zj7P_ECIh6Mc5j2I&usp=sharing

I can email you the KMZ/KML file if that would be more helpful. Just let me know.

The Questions:
1. Can I legally drive my vehicle straight to the “public roads” indicated on the map I provided?


2. Are there any specific laws, statues or guidance I can research that would help me and local law enforcement agencies to understand this type of public/private access issue?

I am a huge supporter of private property rights. I spend too much time researching land ownership when looking for new places to hike and fish but believe that research is worthwhile. I am also a huge supporter of public land rights and very much dislike being told I cannot access our public lands.

In the past, I have been forced from lands and roads by local businessmen, ranchers and farmers. I also know most times, those lands were 100% public. That annoys me very much. However, over the years I have come to understand being right doesn’t keep a gun barrel from being pointed at me. When confronted, I am always courteous and follow all directions and instructions from the man holding the gun on me. That type of behavior will continue but once away from the situation, I need to understand what my rights are and the processes involved in ensuring I am not forced from lands I have a legal right to be on.

Hopefully, you can answer my question and if not, please forward the questions to the appropriate department.
The best way to contact me is via email but if that proves too difficult, you can call or write me.


Thanks,



The Email Answer From The BLM

Mar 31, 2017

Mr. Bondy:
Syrup Creek Rd. Is a publicly maintained Rd. to that gate beyond that gate it is a private Rd. and does not really access public land.   So the answer to your question is the road is properly signed and you can not access it with approval from the land owner.

End Of Story But It's Not Over

Idaho has about 32 million acres of public lands to play on. If we can't find public lands within that amount of acreage, then you may be a little spoiled. And yes, I am disappointed that I cannot easily and freely access my public lands on the other side of that sign and gate. I also know I can look-up the landowner and ask for permission to drive on that road.

Fence on public land in Idaho
Is it private or public? In this case, both sides of the fence were PUBLIC ... Yeah.

Until then, I'll be threading the public/private lands needle on the lands just north of my home on two different early season hikes. There's a good chance I'll be doing a story about those microadventures right on this site. Check back if you're interested.

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Originally published on April 3, 2017.

Thanks,


Tim Bondy
Freelance Writer & Citizen Journalist

I am currently a proud citizen journalist, aka "enemy of the American People!"
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