Swimming Woman Road provides one of the few access points to the south side of Big Snowy Mountains and is popular route for public hunters and outdoor enthusiasts. The public’s right to access the road has had to be fought for in 2008, 2011 and again in 2015.
In 2011, flooding damaged the road to the extent that it was impassable. The county gave the landowners an option of rebuilding along its existing route, which ran next to the Lazy S Ranch residence, or move the road to the west away from the creek on easement through the Lazy S. But the ranch owners questioned whether the county had a legal easement and wanted the road closed. Research, aided by PLWA’s Bernie Lea, showed 1933 documentation that the county had a legal right and easement to its existing location, establishing a county road through the private property, providing public access to our “forest reserve” public lands. After 2 years, Swimming Woman roadwork was completed and then opened in October 2011.
In 2011, the Wilks Brothers (from Texas) purchased a parcel of land which the Swimming Woman County Road went through. Continuing north on the road, the public could access the Montana DNRC parcel as well as continuing up to the Forest Service public land. But at a cattle guard crossing on the public county road, the Wilks attached a N-Bar Private Property “No Trespassing” sign – misleading the public that to proceed on the road would be trespassing, an apparent violation of Montana code. MCA 45-8-115 states that it is illegal to post on state or federal land, to restrict access or use of state or federal land. MCA 45-6-201 states that a landowner cannot place a sign closer than 30 feet of the centerline of the roadway where it enters the private land. The illegal sign was about 12 feet from centerline, giving the appearance that to continue on Swimming Woman Road, crossing the cattle guard, you would be trespassing on the Wilks private property.
In early July, 2015, conservation hunter, Kathryn QannaYahu, was investigating access issues and documented the illegally posted sign. The Golden Valley County Sheriff was contacted and provided with photographic and GPS documentation of the Wilks illegal sign. August 2015 she physically checked the Swimming Woman Road and found the illegal sign had been removed from the road easement and moved to a legal distance from centerline, ensuring that the public’s access is no longer in question or obstructed.