Ranchers sue South Dakota for right to use trail on their own private property

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(NaturalNews) A group of South Dakota ranchers is suing the state after officials barred them from driving across a scenic trail that is on their own lands, thereby crippling their operations and subjecting them to criminal charges.

The five ranchers, led by Dorothy Ellen Trevarton, also named the state Department of Game, Fish and Parks in their suit, which was filed in Fall River County Court.

As reported by Courthouse News Service, the suit centers on the George S. Mickelson Trail, a 109-mile route from Deadwood to Edgemont in the southwest corner of the state. The trail was constructed along old rail lines that were once used by the Grand Island and Wyoming Central Railroad Company, as well as its successor, the Chicago Burlington and Quincy Railroad Company.

Burlington donated its interest in the railroad's right of way to the state of South Dakota, which then converted the stretch into a crushed-stone trail in 1998.

Surrendered easement rights

While much of the trail passes through the National Forest located in the heart of the Black Hills, near Mount Rushmore, stretches of it also cross private land.

Prior to the trail being built, plaintiffs and their predecessors were able to use the right-of-way to haul cattle and feed, as well as travel through their ranches, according to the complaint.

But the state has since informed the plaintiffs that they cannot operate motor vehicles on the trail, for ranching operations or any other purpose, and if they do then they would be subject to criminal penalties.

Bruce Murdock, a plaintiff in the suit, and a ranch hand were prosecuted and convicted of using the trail for ranching operations, the complaint says, without explaining why they did so or what their penalty was.

"Grand Island and Burlington Railroads at best possessed a mere right-of-way easement for railroad use across the Murdocks and Trevarton properties," the complaint states.

"When Burlington Railroads ceased using its easement for railroad use across the Murdocks and Trevarton properties, by operation of laws said easement terminated an[y] and all title and interest in the easement reverted to the owners of the Murdocks and Trevarton properties. Burlington Railroads accordingly had no interest in its right-of-way to donate or otherwise transfer to the State of South Dakota," the complaint continues.

No BLM involvement, yet

"Based on said reversion the State of South Dakota, the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks, and the public are illegally using and possessing the Murdocks' and Trevarton's property."

The trail was named after two-term Gov. George Mickelson, who successfully spearheaded the trail in 1986.

While there has been mention of South Dakota calling up hundreds of armed SWAT personnel, armored personnel carriers or helicopters to enforce the state's will, and no mention of Bureau of Land Management involvement, the case nonetheless revolves around some level of government denying the owners of land their right to use it. In this case, crossing a path with a motor vehicle seems innocuous enough, but if the equipment is damaging the trail, then maybe a better solution than automatic court appearances and sanctions would be for state park officials to reach a deal with the landowners that they would have to maintain the parts of the trail they cross. The state's taxpayers, who are footing the bill for the trail, would be satisfied, and there would be a couple of cases off the court's docket.

But no. Instead, it's the typical reaction of prosecuting and punishing first and foremost that American governments at all levels prefer to utilize instead of rational thought and problem-solving.


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