In 2012, one of our PLWA members was driving over the Shields River Fiddle Creek Bridge and noticed a whole lot of orange paint and a bunch of nasty signs. The Shields is a classic small trout stream in the Livingston area. Our member took a few pictures and sent them on to members in Livingston. This started chain reaction of events leading to the removal of the illegal signs; but it is hard to believe how complicated such a simple compliance action can be.
One of our PLWA board members, George Bauer, had to research property ownership. Another member, Lou Goosey, had a preliminary meeting with the County Commissioners and the Local FWP warden. In the process FWP Commissioner Dan Vermilion got involved.
At the Feb. 26, 2013 Park County Commissioner meeting (pg. 7), they discussed public access to the Shields River at the Fiddle Creek Road.
Essentially, the agencies had to be educated about the Bridge Access Law and be forcefully reminded of their responsibilities. The Park County Commissioners did their job at the May 6, 2013 meeting and ruled the signs had to come down.
“Civil Deputy County Attorney Shannan Piccolo said she, Commissioner Tinsley and a surveyor visited the site in question. The surveyor submitted a written report stating the bridge was located in the appropriate location. Piccolo provided a legal opinion the No Trespassing signs should be removed from the bridge as they are illegal. She will draft a letter to the property owner instructing them to take down the signs. She said stream access at the site is an issue to be addressed by Montana FWP.
About a month later, another member noticed they were still up. So then the question became, who will follow the law – the Sheriff ? FWP Wardens ? It turned out to be the latter, who did their job, pulled down the signs, and painted over the offending orange. There may still be some orange paint in the vicinity, but that does not deny access to the river below the high water mark. No one should be intimidated. Landowners are free to use orange paint to prohibit trespassing on land above the high water mark.
All of this just goes to show you how the compliance deck is often stacked against the public. Even though case law and statute law is on the side of access, getting action by responsible officials usually requires hours of research, pushing, shoving, and sometimes lawsuits.
In this case county officials and FWP were not obstructionist, but in many cases the County Commissions can be a major obstacle. We thank the Park County Commissioners, the County Attorney, and Commissioner Vermillion for their responsiveness.