By Kay Braddock
A prickly situation may just have gotten a little pricklier, as legal access to the Terry Badlands appears to be non-existent.
That conclusion, drawn during a nearly hour-and-a-half meeting between Prairie County Commissioners and members of the Prairie County Planning Board, led officials from both groups to weigh their options on how best to address the issue.
Terry Badlands, which sits in the Bureau of Land Management’s Wilderness Study Area, has two roads that lead to the federal grounds – Scenic View Road and the Milwaukee Road. Both dirt roads have been maintained by the county for years. Both lead to popular tourist destinations promoted by the federal agency. And both cross private property.
But their similarity doesn’t stop there.
Portions of both roads, Scenic View Road, which leads to the Scenic View Overlook and the Milwaukee Road, which leads to the Calypso Trail, contain no legal easements allowing public access.
It’s a situation that’s causing anxiousness in the BLM office, according to discussions during the April 19 meeting with county officials.
“Now the Bureau of Land Management is saying, ‘Wait a minute, we’ve got a problem. We don’t have legal access to the Wilderness Study Area,’” Prairie County Commissioner Todd Devlin said. “They don’t. Not at this point in time. They don’t have one area that they can get to that Wilderness Study Area, not one side, unless they go sue in court for prescriptive easement, historic use.”
Devlin introduced options that the federal agency may be considering to ensure access exists into the Terry Badlands, which included expanding the boundaries of the WSA.
“Well, that would require action on their (BLM’s) part,”Lon Reukauf responded. “And their not much for action.”
“Willing seller, willing buyer,” Devlin answered. “Remember that, and they’ve got the checkbook.”
Devlin questioned whether current legal access would keep the WSA from expanding.
County commissioners have recently spearheaded an effort to seek legal easements on all roads throughout the county that lead through state, federal and deeded property. Their efforts came on the heels of a legal battle over access to Scenic View Road, where county officials publicly criticized the BLM’s support towards the county in handling the issue. The BLM has maintained that the federal agency cannot determine the legalities of road status.
About two years ago landowner Michael Karrels installed a locked gate on Scenic View Road, which runs through portions of his property and BLM land. The locked gate has remained on the road since it was installed.
Although the county has yet to file a charge seeking District Court Judge Simonton's opinion on public access to the seven-and-half mile dirt road, Devlin confirmed at the meeting that Prairie County Attorney Becky Convery is finishing research for the filing, which is “pending shortly.”
The Milwaukee Road crosses a portion of landowner Dan Thomason’s private property on the Terry side of the approach leading to the Old Milwaukee Bridge. Although no gate has been installed on the road, no easement has been signed either.
“He (Dan Thomason) won’t say what he’s going to do,” Land Planning Board Member Quinn Haughian said.
“How’s Danny (Thomason) different than Mike (Karrels)?” Haughian asked referring to the Milwaukee Road and the Scenic View Road.
“Because you guys defined that as a county road as a planning board when you rural addressed that,” Devlin responded referring to Scenic View Road. “And we’d been maintaining (Scenic View Road) for years and years.”
The Milwaukee Road has been maintained by the county since 1984, according to discussions at the meeting, while the county has maintained the Scenic View Road since 1964.
“This is a real pickle, because what we have, we have Scenic View Road sitting here and we have a statute on the books that says we cannot abandon a road, even if we wanted to – and I don’t necessarily think that maybe we should abandon that idea up there to keep that open,” Devlin said, adding roads leading to public lands or water cannot be abandoned unless an alternate route exists leading to the same destination.
“I think the Calypso Trail gives you an alternate route to the same federal ground,” Devlin said. “And I think that’s what the BLM is thinking too.”
Planning board members agreed to hold off on taking any steps until a court ruling on Scenic View Road has been issued.
Planning board members present at the meeting also included: Lorin Larsen, Rick Harding and Dennis Teske.
“I think (Judge) Simonton is the only way to get this solved correctly, so it’s not coming back to haunt us,” Devlin said. “And if Simonton says it’s a private road, so be it.”
NOTE: Dan Thomason declined to comment for this article. Efforts to reach the BLM were unsuccessful.
Three clips of the meeting are provided below, along with the final five minutes of the meeting between Prairie County Commissioners and the Prairie County Land Planning Board.
click here to listen to board audio clips.mp3
click here to listen to the audio file.mp3