Big Timber, Montana – On Wednesday, July 15, at 9:00 a.m. the gate barring public access to the West Deer Creek area of the Custer-Gallatin National Forest south of Big Timber swung open – thus restoring road access to more than 16,000 acres of public lands. PLWA played a key role in early efforts to keep public access to this area.
The gate is across a newly constructed bypass road named “West Deer Creek Road” (Forest Road #421, known locally as the Cherry Creek access). The new road provides a permanent public route on the Yellowstone Ranger District by replacing part of the old, now-private Cherry Creek Road.
Last fall, the Forest Service and two landowners reached a joint agreement for a permanent public access easement across the West Deer Creek Road. The Forest Service and partners, including the Public Lands/ Water Access Association (PLWA) have worked for years to restore the primary access route into the National Forest nearest to Big Timber. The road is located south of Big Timber, directly off the Main Boulder Road at mile marker 10.
“Both the Landowners, Mr. Matlich and Mr. Goldberg, as well as the Gallatin National Forest employees deserve much credit for finding a workable solution,” said John Gibson, President of PLWA.
In 1989, the Public Land and Water Access Association had filed suit against the people responsible for closing the road, Gibson explained. PLWA believed the public had a prescriptive easement to the National Forest Land behind the closure. During mediation, PLWA (then known as Public Land Access Association Inc.) agreed to drop the lawsuit if the landowner would allow public access to the road for the next ten years. The landowners agreed and offered to pay all the legal bills. “Bernard Lea and I had recently taken over the leadership of PLAAI and the organization was broke at the time, and we thought the Forest Service could come up with an alternative access within ten years,” Said John Gibson President of PLWA.
“No alternative was found, however, and ten years later the landowners closed the road,” Gibson said. “The Gallatin National Forest Supervisor then considered condemnation to gain access to the land, but Senator Jon Tester advised against condemnation and offered to try to work out a better alternative,” Gibson said. “After several months of negotiation, the landowners agreed to build a new road across their land that would connect with old road beyond the point where it reached the National Forest. This was recently accomplished.”
Alex Sienkiewicz, Yellowstone District Ranger, also praised the willingness of stakeholders to work toward a public access success. “This opening recognizes years of ongoing work. I would like to thank those that have worked hard to resolve issues and facilitate access to public lands for all American citizens to enjoy,” he said. “Road and trail crews have worked throughout the spring reestablishing routes, as many of the roads and trails have undergone a decade or more without maintenance”
The new access on the West Deer Creek Road will provide for permanent year-long opportunities in the area including: dispersed camping in the Lower Deer Creek vicinity, hiking options on several forest trails such as Tomato Can Trail #156, Middle Fork #112 and West Fork of Upper Deer Creek #108, along with several spur connector trails.
All trails in the area are open to foot and stock use and some area trails are open to biking and motorized use. A free Motor Vehicle Use Map (MVUM) is available at your local ranger district or for download on a mobile device, with the Avenza app and at www.fs.usda.gov/custergallatin.
The Central Zone Forest Visitor Map does not reflect these newest changes and visitors are encouraged to use the motor vehicle use map. The area is popular for significant vistas, hunting, primitive and backcountry hiking opportunities and dispersed camping. For more information, contact the Yellowstone District Office at 222-1892, for general information visit online at: www.fs.usda.gov/custergallatin.