ROB'S CRAZY MOUNTAIN ACCESS
“I guess I’m the
Elk Hunt District 580 is in the
southeastern portion of Montana's Crazy Mountains, in Sweet Grass
County. The Crazy Mountains US Forest was established in 1906.
The Forest Service maintains and promotes that FS Trail 115/136
is, and has been for about a 100 years, a public historical access,
promoting it on their maps.
man tests forest trail easment to Crazy Mountains in trespass
case Billings Gazette article
Montana native, Rob Gregoire,
who has been hunting since the 70's, previously scouted for elk
on FS Trail 115/136, even utilizing the Avensa app to ensure he
was on the correct trail, which passes through Lee and Barbara
Langhus' property (they
have a rental guest cabin by the trail), encountered no problems.
FS Trail 115/136 has been a public FS Trail for about a 100 years
with historical documentation and FS trail maintenance logs. FS
Trail 115, "... is a century-old trail, part of a century-old
trail system that circumnavigates the Crazy Mountains, and connected
historic U.S. Forest Service guard stations (many of which are
now rental cabins). Indeed a Forest Guard Station once existed
upon the trail at issue at its juncture in Big Timber Canyon.
Historically, forest rangers rode their work hitches on this trail
system, administering public lands grazing allotments to private
ranchers, managing mineral activity, putting up timber sales,
fighting fire, and maintaining access for hunting and fishing
for all Americans who might seek to use their national forests."
The public's use of this trail predates the Langhus purchase by
nearly 1/2 a century. Maps below.
On Nov. 23rd, Rob went hunting,
starting at the Big Timber picnic area. Again he used the Avensa
app to stay on FS 115/136 trail. When he returned about 1 pm,
he was met by Lieutenant Ronneberg from the Sweet Grass County
Sheriff's office, at the trailhead, who cited him for criminal
trespass 45-6-203. $585 fine has been assessed.
Rob had an appearance hearing
in Big Timber in December, in which he pled "not guilty".
He now faces an omnibus hearing on March 16, 2017 (date could
change, check updates below), in which he will need an attorney
to present the case that this is still a public trail. Please
help keep this trail public by using the donate button at the
top-right of this page.
As the trail crests the pass
you are faced with a sign telling you there is no easement on
this public historical access trail, even though this trail has
been used by the public for 100 years.
Service Trail Maintenance Conflict article
man charged with trespassing on 100 yr. old FS trail
property blocks access to public lands article
Mountain public access fight Article
Supervisor Letter to Sen. Daines Trail 115/136
CRAZY MOUNTAIN Update
Good news, my trespassing case didn't go to trial. We do, however,
have more work to do to keep this trail open to the public.
I took a deferred prosecution agreement. While
it doesn't have the bang of a "thrown out of court" or
"not guilty," the deferred prosecution is about as close
to a dismissal as we are going to get with this court. I agreed
to donate $500 to the Sweet Grass Community Foundation and in exchange
the court won't prosecute me as long as I don't violate any laws
over the next year. I admitted no guilt and the record will be expunged
in a year. I used my own funds to make the donation.
The first thing people ask is how does this
affect the status of the trail. Most people are like I was in thinking
that if I was found not guilty then the trail would be open to the
public. I was shocked to learn that a criminal trial cannot determine
the status of the trail. That has to be done with an expensive civil
trial. However, under normal circumstances if I compiled enough
evidence that the trail was public the county attorney would decide
not to prosecute and the sheriff would stop writing tickets. It
is, after all, a waste of the court's time to pursue these things
if the person won't be found guilty in the end. If the landowner
had a legitimate claim that the public had abandoned this trail
he could take it up with the Forest Service and leave the public
out of it.
That would normally be a good strategy, i.e.
solve this civil matter in civil court. But not in Sweet Grass County.
It turns out that another major landowner has been trying to shut
down this trail for years: the county attorney's wife. Now I'm not
accusing anyone of anything, and to his credit he didn't have to
offer me a deferred prosecution, but he didn't recuse himself from
my case. The undersheriff also has family with a ranch adjacent
to this trail and the Sheriff's last name is on a ranch just up
the road. These things have raised a lot of eyebrows.
I'm told it is unusual for the criminal system
to be used in cases where the public likely has a right to use the
trail. Regardless if that has anything to do with the contents of
the previous paragraph, if they are able to block the public from
using this trail for another few years we could lose the trail.
That is why I'm looking into forcing the Forest Service to do its
job of protecting this trail. They need to throw down a statement
of interest on this trail or find some other way to stop the clock.
If we can't get them to take this on then various groups have expressed
interest in suing the Hailstone and proving there is a trail easement.
I'm certain I'd eventually be found not guilty,
but it would probably take an appeal to the District Court and I'm
told the Sweet Grass sheriff department will ticket to the next
person, forcing them to go through all this again. Pursuing this
to obtain a not guilty verdict would waste my time and thousands
of dollars that could be better used fighting this matter in civil
court. That is the main reason I settled. Settling now allows us
to use the $4-5000 remaining as seed money to raise enough to take
on the Hailstone if it comes to that.
There is so much more to tell, but I don't have
the time right now. This story is filled with many twists and surprises.
We are making progress and I think we have a good case that this
is a public trail. I'll try to get a more comprehensive story written
and out to you guys.
So, we are beyond the trial and now it looks
like the real work will need to begin.