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Sculpin
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PostSun Feb 23, 2020 10:45 am 
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I often find myself poking around the lower east side of the Cascades in spring, looking for wildflowers.  In some areas, Washington state has similar issues to other states like Montana and Wyoming, where large tracts of public land are inaccessible because of a thin strip of private land along a road.

I have attempted to educate myself on this topic.  I have read about the requirements for a hostile possession easement.  I have found that the rules are very reasonable and rational, balancing private property rights with legal public access to public land.  I really dislike trespassing, and have never done it on purpose, but at the same time, I feel strongly about the rights of hikers to use legal access.  The purpose of this post is to leverage information from the community about how to best approach the issues.  I will use a couple of case studies - gleaned from TRs here - that I hope the community can further elucidate.

This map shows public land in Washington:

http://publiclandsinventory.wa.gov/#Map


Teanaway Butte

TB is a minor summit on Mountain Home Ridge outside of Leavenworth.  The summit is DNR, and as near as I can tell, it is completely surrounded by private land.  For at least a couple of decades, and most likely a lot longer, it was accessed off Mountain Home Road across two parcels of private land.  The first parcel that had to be crossed was purchased by the local land conservancy and opened to the public, leaving one private holding.  Recently, that parcel sold and the new owner put up "No Trespassing" signs, blocking all public access to TB.

From my reading of the rules, I do not think that the land owner had a right to prevent public access.  I would be very interested in interpretations from others on this.

Selah Butte

SB is a prominent summit outside of Yakima, above the Yakima River.  It has probably been visited for over 100 years.  WTA recently posted this in their hiking guide:

"Per the Yakima County Department of Transportation, Department of Natural Resources, and Bureau of Land Management, access trails, as well as the top of Selah Butte are on private property. Please refrain from visiting this location."

According to the map I linked above, the slopes of Selah Butte are BLM land, all the way down to the Highway 821 road easement.  There is a private inholding at the top full of communication towers.  This is clearly shown on a BLM map here as well:

https://www.blm.gov/or/districts/spokane/plans/files/OR-134-04_Yakima_River_Canyon_2011.pdf

The BLM document also states that the ranch buildings that are visible below the trail were abandoned and subsumed as public land.

Let me just digress for a minute.  WTA is wrong about "the access trails" being private, they are all on public land.  Do you think you can call the DNR and get a good answer on public access?  Go ahead, give it a try.  Why would the Yakima County DoT, or DNR for that matter, have an opinion about access on BLM land?  Why does the BLM document seem to be encouraging recreation in the area?  The answer is the same to all these questions:  the WTA statement is pure BS.   moon.gif

What I have attempted to show here is that public access is a greased pig, the firmer you try to grasp it, the more slippery it gets.  Private landowners will slap up No Trespassing signs wherever they want.  The folks that answer the phone at public agencies may give you an authoritative-sounding answer, but do not mistake that for a valid legal opinion.  How does the public get a clear answer?  Does each case have be litigated?

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crock
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PostSun Feb 23, 2020 1:36 pm 
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The map at the link  http://publiclandsinventory.wa.gov/#Map  seems to be inaccurate - it shows King County's Cougar Mountain Regional Park as being private property.

It's maybe worth contacting the WTA with the information you have about Selah Butte.
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PostSun Feb 23, 2020 3:16 pm 
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crock wrote:
it shows King County's Cougar Mountain Regional Park as being private property

If the click on the "streets" view it shows it as olive green, which makes it look like public land but that color is not on the key.  (They probably got a summer intern to do this.)  Cougar Mountain is a regional park, not a county park, and so the mapping process probably choked on that.

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Between every two pines is a doorway to the new world. - John Muir
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IanB
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PostSun Feb 23, 2020 9:05 pm 
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Kitsap County and Bainbridge Island parks are not shown.  City and county owned lands are indicated, but not those held by their respective park districts?  Seems odd, but would be remedied by another layer on the map.

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JVesquire
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PostMon Feb 24, 2020 8:49 am 
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This is a really hot topic in Montana right now, because very old trails that people have used for decades are now being disputed by out-of-state landowners who buy large tracts and won't allow access. There is a case about the Crazy Mountains where a hiker or hunter used the trail and was criminally charged. The last I heard about it he was having trouble defending himself because the USFS ordered its staff not to cooperate with his defense, when they could have proved the existence of an easement.

I guess the lesson is that one way to prove the existence of an easement is to defend yourself in a criminal proceeding, but that certainly isn't ideal.

If you thought there was existing access and a landowner was falsely claiming otherwise, I would go to the land records in that county and see what you can figure out. You might be able to find the existence of a recorded easement. If not, then you might still be able to prove some kind of easement, but then you're talking lawyers, courts, etc.
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Kim Brown
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PostMon Feb 24, 2020 10:26 am 
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I think there is a general change in values of the U.S. regarding land – seems folks are a lot more selfish – could be selfish land owners, but it could be that the public has worn out their welcome by being jerks, so landowners are less inclined to continue granting easements, or fighting historic easements. That, combined with a higher rate of ignorance of land management, plus the stripping of public agency funds and staffing issues -  I wonder if we may see more instances where historic easement is denied/challenged.

I wonder if the unwillingness of USFS to cooperate with the guys defense was lack of staff. it's easier to just not help out.

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Malachai Constant
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PostMon Feb 24, 2020 11:11 am 
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Land owners may be wary of their land becoming an illegal camp, cleanup costs are significant due to biohazards.

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Randito
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PostMon Feb 24, 2020 2:40 pm 
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I think the biggest hazard for land owners of allowing access is that by actually permitting it, will over time establish an easement and then they will not be able to use the land as fully as they could otherwise,  it also diminishes the resale value of the land.
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Sculpin
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PostMon Feb 24, 2020 2:51 pm 
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JVesquire wrote:
There is a case about the Crazy Mountains where a hiker or hunter used the trail and was criminally charged.

I have followed that one a bit.  In that case, a single trail had been used by the public across private land to access the entire eastern escarpment of the range.  When the parcel with the trail was sold, the buyer knew that if he closed the trail, he would have the eastern half of the range as a private hunting reserve for his clients.  It looks like the sheriff was in on it, otherwise no way the cops show up on a trespassing complaint and arrest (rather than just citing) the guy.  The guy went in knowing he would be cited.

From my readings on how the law works, the route in question meets every single requirement for a public easement.  I think the guy cited for trespassing is a hero!   jab.gif

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Between every two pines is a doorway to the new world. - John Muir
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alpendave
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PostTue Feb 25, 2020 10:18 am 
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Don’t think the time has yet come for this, but I do believe in allemansrätten. But with it there would have to be a high amount of accountability— and perhaps the hanging of a few ambulance-chasing lawyers — and harsh penalties for those who abuse the land (vagrants squatting in otherwise private land). If there is public land, then the public should have the right to reasonable and as nearly equal access to it as a hunting guide  who owns land that would otherwise make the public land inaccessible. And all private land is subject to some degree to eminent domain. The private land we’re talking about here seems large enough that the impact of a parking area and trail would be a minimal. Unless you somehow think it’s your right to have large swaths of public land practically your own.

With that said, if someone violates the leave -no-trace ethic in these areas, I’m all for coming down hard on them.

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What we do does far more than what we think others ought to do. Inspiration is a far greater power for good than coercion. In your own life, show others the good that you wish to see in the world.
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Kim Brown
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PostTue Feb 25, 2020 10:22 am 
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alpendave wrote:
and perhaps the hanging of a few ambulance-chasing lawyers

"The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers"

---Shakespeare, Hank 6

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alpendave
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PostTue Feb 25, 2020 10:53 am 
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Kim Brown wrote:
alpendave wrote:
and perhaps the hanging of a few ambulance-chasing lawyers

"The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers"

---Shakespeare, Hank 6

I hope I wasn’t taken too literally.   😜

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Like a ray of sunshine in a drought stricken land.

What we do does far more than what we think others ought to do. Inspiration is a far greater power for good than coercion. In your own life, show others the good that you wish to see in the world.
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Malachai Constant
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PostTue Feb 25, 2020 10:58 am 
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Lawyers only do what their clients want them to do.

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alpendave
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PostTue Feb 25, 2020 12:53 pm 
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Malachai Constant wrote:
Lawyers only do what their clients want them to do.

So do hit men. I was more getting at the desire for land owners to lock up their land because of fear that someone may be injured and file a lawsuit. Perhaps that wouldn’t apply to an easement.

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Like a ray of sunshine in a drought stricken land.

What we do does far more than what we think others ought to do. Inspiration is a far greater power for good than coercion. In your own life, show others the good that you wish to see in the world.
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alpendave
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PostTue Feb 25, 2020 12:56 pm 
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alpendave wrote:
Perhaps that wouldn’t apply to an easement.

I guess they can be liable: https://www.nytimes.com/1987/09/13/realestate/talking-easements-law-can-trip-the-unwary.html

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Like a ray of sunshine in a drought stricken land.

What we do does far more than what we think others ought to do. Inspiration is a far greater power for good than coercion. In your own life, show others the good that you wish to see in the world.
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