Teton County Road No. 380 / Salmond Ranch Road – Teton County

Resolution Accomplished

The Teton County Road 380, also known as the Salmond Ranch Road, goes up the Deep Creek drainage and connects to trails into the Rocky Mountain Front. It is one of the few access points into the front between Augusta and Glacier Park. The initial portion of the 3 mile road goes through the Salmond Ranch, then through the school sections which abut BLM and National Forest land. It is open only for foot and horse travel on the federal land.

The disputed access issue began in the 1930s, when Frank Salmond offered Teton County a dedicated public easement to ensure public access, in exchange for the county closing Road 380. Quote from Great Falls Tribune Story “Teton County set for fight over county road” “On June 2, 1930, the three members of the Teton County Commission met in an afternoon session to discuss the fate of a country road about 20 miles west of Choteau along the Rocky Mountain Front. Now, more than eight decades later, a legal battle is brewing over the decision the commissioners made that day: to vacate the road on the condition that the landowner, Frank Salmond, provide a public right-of-way to state lands. The renewed fight over the approximately four-mile section of right-of-way much of which is barely visible after nearly eight decades of little-to-no use is a thorny and complicated issue pitting the public’s right to access public lands against property rights and swirling it together with concerns about wildlife, weeds and land conservation. Throw in a proposed federal bill that would add some 67,000 acres of new wilderness to the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex and you’ve got an issue ripe for heated debate in western Teton County.”

In 1988 the Salmonds locked the gate and filed “a legal notice to all the world” that any public rights to cross the land had been unilaterally terminated by them. Then in 1989, the Salmond family posted “No Trespassing” signs on the road.

After public outcry on the issue, the Salmonds brought a quiet title action in October of 2012 hoping to validate their position. In response, the state Department of Natural Resources Conservation (DNRC) and the State Land Board filed papers on March 1, 2013, with documentary evidence, showing the right of way had not been abandoned. In a separate action, Randy (Randall) Knowles, a private citizen from Great Falls alleged, “The DNRC, State Land Board and Teton County breached their duty, as trustees, to protect the rights of Montana residents to the enjoyment of land entrusted to their care.”

A variety of parties then began negotiating. At the State Land Board hearing, Russell Country Sportsmens Association, as well as Public Land/Water Access Association (PLWA) president, John Gibson, testified at the hearing on July 20, 2015, along with the Montana Wildlife Federation. The proposal was unanimously approved by the State Land Board. As part of the deal, Salmond Ranch Co. Inc. would construct another unimproved route closer to a section line, which would limit damage to its property, with the state footing the bill. The public would then get access to that undeveloped trail, which leads to thousands of acres of wild state and federal lands on the Rocky Mountain Front prized for hunting and hiking, including lands in the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act, for six months of the year, approximately 50,000 acres of public land along the Rocky Mountain Front, west of Choteau – 1,900 acres of DNRC land, 10,000 acres of Bureau of Land Management property and some 38,000 acres of land in Lewis and Clark National Forest including the Bob Marshall Wilderness.

Salmond Road
Public Land/Water Access Association Inc. or PLWA,
is a citizen group organized and operated under the Montana nonprofit corporation act.
The Internal Revenue Service has made a determination that PLWA qualifies as a tax- exempt
organization under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code and that it is a public charity.

Articles and Information on this site represent the opinion of the writer and are not intended as legal advice.
Legal counsel may be needed in dealing with specific access situations and issues.