The Cherry Creek Road, nine miles south of Big Timber, east off of Highway 298, crossed about a quarter-mile of Lee Smoot’s property and then three-quarters of a mile of George Matelich and Michael Goldberg’s ranch before reaching the Gallatin National Forest boundary – and 16,000 acres of public land. The Public Land/Water Access Association had filed suit against the people responsible for closing Cherry Creek Road in Sweet Grass County. PLWA held the public had a prescriptive easement to the Gallatin National Forest land behind the closure. PLWA agreed to drop the lawsuit if the landowner would allow public access to the road for the next ten years. At that time PLWA did not have the funds to pursue a lawsuit. “As President and Vice President of the Public Land and Water Access Association, Bernard Lea and I go back some thirteen years on the Cherry Creek access south of Big Timber. We filed suit when the Cherry Creek Road was first closed to the public. Later we had to agree to a deal because we did not have the funds to continue our lawsuit.The landowner offered to leave the road open for ten years and pay our court costs if we would drop the law suit. Our lawyer recommended that we accept that proposal.”
During the 10 years, no resolution was achieved with the Forest Service. Right after the 10 years ended, the landowner, closed access again.
In December 2013, the FS Yellowstone District Ranger Alex Sienkiewicz published their West Deer Creek Road Realignment Project Environmental Assessment, open for public comment. In July 2014, Yellowstone District Ranger Alex Sienkiewicz stated he had reached a settlement with the landowners, providing around a mile of permanent access through their land from State Highway 298 to the National Forest.
Landowners George Matelich and Michael Goldberg agreed to build a new road – the West Deer Creek Road west of the Cherry Creek Road – at their own expense to prevent the public from passing so close to their home.
July 15, 2015, the gate barring public access to the West Deer Creek area of the Custer-Gallatin National Forest, south of Big Timber opened, restoring access to more than 16,000 acres of public lands. PLWA played a key role in early efforts to keep public access to this area.
The newly constructed bypass road was named, “West Deer Creek Road”, (Forest Road #421, known locally as the Cherry Creek access). The new road provides a permanent public route on the Yellowstone Ranger District by replacing part of the old, now-private Cherry Creek Road. The West Deer Creek Road will provide permanent year-round access, including: dispersed camping in the Lower Deer Creek vicinity, hiking options on several forest trails such as Tomato Can Trail No. 156, Middle Fork No. 112 and West Fork of Upper Deer Creek No. 108, along with several spur connector trails.