We all ought to take a moment to celebrate that the access fight on the Ruby River — one of the most significant threats to Montana’s Stream Access Law in that law’s history — is finally over. After losing, repeatedly, before the Montana Supreme Court, the landowners who have tried to block access to the river from three bridges that cross the Ruby in Madison County have finally relented.
Last week, the deadlines for appeals to the Montana Supreme Court or federal courts passed. That means the rulings there will stand. The fate of access at two of the three disputed bridges was long ago settled as those bridges were on county roads. There the courts ruled early on that county roads have 60-foot wide easements and that the public was entitled to use those easements to access the river.
The third bridge, on Seyler Lane, remained in dispute because Seyler wasn’t originally a county road. Seyler became public through a prescriptive easement created by decades of continuous, and uninterrupted, public use. Since the county remains responsible for maintaining the safety and maintenance of the bridge, the easement had to be wide enough to allow for that maintenance.