By Kay Braddock
Bureau of Land Management representatives met with Prairie County commissioners Monday morning to discuss current issues facing the federal agency including an access strategy the Miles City field office is currently implementing.
“We’ve formed an access team,” BLM information director Marc Jacobsen told the commissioners, explaining access strategies to federal lands have been categorized into a four-tier pyramid format.
The bottom tier identifies less complicated access plans including better education on map reading for recreationists as well as signage along designated roads. While more complicated projects include obtaining easements for roads that cross private sections in order to reach public lands, as well as land exchanges.
Both Scenic View Road, which leads to the Terry Badlands, and Milwaukee Road, which leads to the Calypso Trail, were discussed during the brief one-hour meeting.
Access issues have “vaulted to the top” in the past year or two for the federal agency, Jacobsen said, noting the Terry overlook area is only one of many areas of concern throughout the state.
Commissioners told BLM field manager Elaine Raper and Jacobsen that the commission has not yet received an opinion from Missoula lawyer Peter Dayton. In September it was reported that the county and landowner Michael Karrels, who installed a gate, cattle guard and sign on Scenic View Road, had agreed to seek the legal opinion of Dayton, splitting the costs.
“We have not heard back from him,” commissioner Todd Devlin said of Dayton and the repeated attempts the commission and county attorney Becky Convery have made recently to Dayton’s office.
“This thing is going to turn into a wreck,” Devlin said of the situation on Scenic View Road, adding he believes the Public Lands and Water Access group will likely take the matter to court if the county doesn’t.
The gate on the road has been locked since about the last week of November.
Raper noted that the application phase for BLM’s recently formed statewide access position has been extended due to media coverage the position received. The BLM will identify a statewide priority list on access issues, according to Raper.
“You’ve been embroiled in the access issues up to your eyeballs,” Jacobsen said to the commissioners, noting counties in eastern Montana face unique challenges due to the checkerboard land pattern of deeded and BLM land.