The Utah Court of Appeals has upheld a trial court ruling that a private road in Box Elder County was not opened by its owner to the public, and the county therefore couldn't order the owner to keep the road open.
The Ridge Road provides access to areas of the Sawtooth National Forest. It begins on private land owned by rancher LaMont Campbell and runs across land owned by several other people.Traditionally, its public use has been largely restricted to the 10-day deer hunting season. But in the fall of 1996 Box Elder County ordered Campbell to keep the road open during the hunting season, prompting Campbell to sue the county, claiming the county had violated clauses in the state and federal constitutions that bar taking property without compensation.
Utah law allows the government to take control of the road when it has been a public thoroughfare continuously used for 10 years or more, and an attorney with the county argued that the hunters' use of the road fulfilled that requirement.
But Campbell claimed, and 1st District Judge Ben Hadfield agreed, that because a gate on the road was generally locked, it was not a public thoroughfare.
"Under the continuous use requirement, members of the public must have been able to use the road whenever convenient," wrote Judge Judith M. Billings for the unanimous three-member court, but the trial court found, and the appeals court agreed, that the road was generally barred to the public.
And, the court said, permission given by Campbell to hunters allowing them to use the road during deer hunting season did not make it a public thoroughfare.