Park County Commissioner Lee Livingston said he’s received a lot of calls from people who enjoyed access to Heart Mountain via the canal road for years, but now are precluded.
Livingston said he hopes to work with the irrigation district to gain the public entry to the public land adjacent to the canal.
Public access terminates when Lane 17 becomes the canal road, said Randy Watts, district manager.
“That road is our easement,” Watts said. “It’s not a public road.”
The district is enforcing its no trespassing policy. Watts said he is not patrolling the road but does call the sheriff — and he encourages others to follow suit if they spot trespassers.
While the canal road leads to public land near Heart Mountain where hunting and outdoor recreation await, private landowners in the district are irked by irresponsible parties crossing their private property to inflict occasional damage. No trespassing signs are being shot or vandalized, Watts said.
Livingston said he understands the landowners’ position and recognizes the fact that there are “slob hunters,” who do not respect other people’s property or the land.
Watts said there’s also a real danger around irrigation facilities — equipment and currents in the canal beyond what a human or animal can traverse. A vehicle slid off the road and damaged a fence and another nearly wound up in a siphon. “It’s not the best environment for public safety,” Watts said.
Watts does not believe landowners are liable if trespassers are injured on that private land, but he said that would be a question for attorneys.
Taxpayers do not pay for canal road repairs, Watts added: The district and its landowners foot the bill.
District employees are not authorized to use the road on their free time either, Watts said. “It’s not our right. I’ve been very firm on that.”
There were more than two old wood bridges crossing the canal to public land, but the district removed them because they were too costly to replace, Watts said.
What if a compromise could be hammered out?
“I’m reaching out to the irrigation district,” Livingston said. He said he wants to develop a couple of public access points on the road and determine whether public safety is an issue around district facilities.
“My goal is to bring all the players to the table and see what we can come up with,” Livingston said.
Watts can’t say what the district’s response would be, but ultimately the decision would rest with the Bureau of Reclamation, which owns the irrigation facility.
“All the private landowners are behind this 100 percent,” Watts said. “We’re not trying to be the bad guys.”
The Heart Mountain Irrigation District’s monthly meeting begins at 9 a.m., Tuesday, Dec. 13, at the district office at 1206 Road 18.
The Nature Conservancy’s Heart Mountain Ranch does offer access to Heart Mountain. The public can turn north off U.S. Highway 14-A on Road 19, which intersects with Lane 13H, leading to a foot/horse traffic-only trailhead at the base of the mountain.