Suddenly, and with dubious (possibly illegal) justification, we are losing historic public-land access. The land-transfer movement is a national trend, but the fallout is being felt close to home—most recently, in the Crazy Mountains north of Big Timber.
Menis, the first word of the Iliad, is usually translated as “rage.” While my knowledge of Greek is limited, I think “outrage” might serve even better. And if it was good enough for Homer to use at the beginning of Western literature’s cornerstone, it’s good enough for me to start with here. Everyone who cares about Montana’s wild places and their ability to enjoy public land should feel nothing short of outrage in response to recent access conflicts in the Crazy Mountains.
The Crazies are one of central Montana’s isolated “island” mountain ranges and the closest of all to Bozeman. As part of the Custer Gallatin National Forest, the heart of the Crazies lies in the public domain. However, access is limited because of private property encircling the land that belongs to all of us.
The problem is compounded by the “checkerboard” pattern of land ownership in the Crazies. During the Civil War era, the federal government began granting alternate sections of land to railroads as compensation for the expense of building track. During the 1920s, the Northern Pacific Railroad wound up with title to over 40 checkerboarded sections of land in the Crazies, many of which were eventually sold to private parties including nearby landowners. Because the legality of “corner-crossing”—stepping from one section of public land to another at a four-way corner with two sections of private land—has never been established, when recreationists reached public land in the Crazies, their legal ability to traverse the terrain remained questionable even when they never stepped onto private property.