By Ron Bain, Watchdog Editor
OLATHE – Twenty-three citizen activists wielding chainsaws, torches, shovels and picks reopened a historical road to vehicular use on state lands held in trust by the Bureau of Land Management west of Olathe on Sunday, July 21.
The BLM had closed Cushman Creek and Dry Creek roads to motorized traffic four or five years ago, but the activists say the routes date back to the 1700s before America was even founded and must stay open because of that historical use.
Ute Indians used the trail to access a flint mine in the area’s canyon cliffs, according to David Justice, spokesman for the activists. After the Utes, white men used the roads to access the same flint mine and for logging, Justice said.
“What we were looking for was something that dated back to before the 1800s,” he said. “It’s a lot of history, really an old Indian trail.”
According to court precedents established when a federal law known as R.S. 2477 was in effect, roads with such historical uses cannot be closed to the public. Earlier this year, Justice and his allies won a fight with the U.S. Forest Service over a road near Pitkin in his home county of Gunnison after complaining about violations of R.S. 2477.
“We did the first one in Pitkin and the forest service (reopened) that one for us,” Justice said.
At Cushman Creek, the activists themselves removed three metal, wood and rock barriers that the BLM had erected to block vehicular use of the route, did some road leveling and brush cutting, and placed stickers stating “R.S. 2477 Protected Right of Way” over the BLM’s signage denoting the restrictions. It took the volunteer crew about four or five hours to complete the project.
“It’s not civil disobedience – it’s civic duty,” Justice said.
At the top of the trail in the shadow of a large boulder with Indian petroglyphs carved into it, the activists didn’t seem tired, just exhilarated.
“This is victory. This is living, taking America back and getting some exercise,” Justice said.
The group plans to continuing opening what they view as illegally closed roads until the BLM and USFS acknowledges the R.S. 2477 precedents, he added.