by Perry Backus, Ravalli Republic
“A gate that’s blocked public access to the Hughes Creek for nearly 40 years won’t be coming down anytime soon.
And it might not ever go away.
If the Ravalli County Commission finds the road doesn’t provide any access to public lands, the decade’s long debate on the road’s future might finally get put to rest.
After listening to more than two hours of testimony Tuesday about the road located in the upper reaches of the West Fork of the Bitterroot, the commission appointed a two-member fact-finding committee that will venture to the site this spring to determine whether the road does access any national forest lands.
The Hughes Creek Road dates back to 1900 when the county commission declared it a public highway that started at the Alta Post Office and ran east for about 12 miles to the Woods Placer Mining Company claims.
The public hasn’t been allowed to travel the road since 1978 after landowners built a gate near the 8.5 mile mark.
Since then, the county and property owners have spent time in court and in the commission meeting room haggling over whether the gate should remain.
Two retired Forest Service employees brought the issue forward most recently following a Montana Supreme Court decision on a road named Modesty Creek in Anaconda-Deerlodge County.