Thanks to the vision and dogged persistence of PLWA founder and public access hero Tony Schoonen over 20 years ago and recent funding by the United States Forest Service and Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, the recreating public can now enjoy permanent access to and ownership of the 598 acre Hadley Park Property in Jefferson County. This section of property is located in the Bull Mountains about 17 miles north of Whitehall and 7 miles south of Boulder. This property had been an in-holding within the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest that was a popular hunting and recreation area recognized both for its valuable habitat and beautiful scenery.
Here’s how this Win/Win for the public came about:
In the 1990’s, the Forest Service and prior Hadley Park property owner were in litigation regarding the use and ownership of the Hadley Park Road. In 1995, the Forest Service filed a Statement of Interest that claimed an easement on this road across the private property. In 1999, PLWA’s predecessor organization, the Public Land Access Association (PLAAI), through Tony Schnoonen and PLAAI’s attorney, also filed Statements of Interest on behalf of the public pursuant to a prescriptive right that claimed an easement covering the entirety of the road across federal and private lands. Through a subsequent settlement, the Forest Service acquired an easement over the private property that enabled the road to be open year round to the public under Forest Service jurisdiction.
Given its important wildlife habitat and recreational attributes, the Forest Service and conservation partners prioritized the Hadley Park Property public acquisition. A change in property ownership helped spur the potential acquisition. In September 2020, the property owners (Roland Durocher family), Forest Service and RMEF finalized this public acquisition. As part of that finalization, PLWA relinquished its Statement of Interest in the Hadley Park Road easement because the public acquisition and easement eliminated the need for it. In addition to the transfer of 598 conservation acres from private to public ownership, the Hadley Park acquisition enables public access to an additional 1,130 acres of public lands. By preventing development and subdivision, the acquisition protects important elk summer and winter range and good habitat for moose, mule deer, black bear and other wildlife.
PLWA President Bernard Lea credits Tony for assuring the Hadley Park purchase included permanent public access: “If Tony had not presented the Statement of Interest on behalf of PLWA in 1999 to protect the existing access, it may have not been a factor in the purchase. PLWA also would not have been able to be involved in the purchase. The reason we are successful is because of this type of action to protect access.” He also notes that the Goetz Law firm provided the legal expertise for the unique approach used to solidify public access to Hadley Park back in 1999 and continues to provide excellent legal services to PLWA to further its public access mission.