Not to be mistaken with Pitkin County, home of many foo foo ski areas, Pitkin is a small historic mining/ranching/vacation community kind of east of Gunnison, Colo. I have known some folks who claimed Pitkin as home. They have told me that because of the shared hardships of life in this area, they are a very close-knit independent bunch. Pitkin is also center of a vast amount of 4×4 roads such as the Tin Cup/ St. Elmo/Pitkin Loop, and Hancock Pass/Alpine Tunnel 4×4 road. Over the past year the United States Forest Service has been attempting to close many roads around Pitkin, as well as all over Colorado. Which brings us to this editorial in the November issue of the Western Slope Watch Dog. Bold Emphasis was added by myself but the rest is a direct quote of David Justice!
Activist reopen Powderhouse road By-David Justice
The Powderhouse Gulch Road, a historic mining road heading south from Pitkin and terminating at Waunita Pass, is one of many roads “closed” by the U.S. Forest Service this past summer-quotes are used around the work “closed” because the image of a locked gate is fabricated.
Roads are not merely being closed, they are being obliterated. A local Vietnam vet said, “It looks like a carpet bombing to me!’ It is no wonder. A Deere 650’dozed is being used to do the damage. Its operator told me that he was just following orders to insure roads would never be used again.
Last month a work party of local citizens formed in Pitkin to restore the Powderhouse Gulch Road. Word leaked out to District Ranger John Murphy who met the work party accompanied by USFS law enforcement personal. Murphy tried to discourage the men from executing their plan, arguing that, “this is not the right way to go about it,” that “there are proper channels to go through,” and that “it is not possible to reopen the road.” But not even the threat of arrest could deter the men.
Contrary to Ranger Murphy’s assertions that the USFS “would have been forced to arrest them and it would have escalated the matter” and that the road was reopened “to prevent violence and appease them” is simply not true. Murphy was powerless to arrest us and his threats were merely an attempt to prevent being caught with his hand in the cookie jar. When Murphy came to realize that he could not talk us out of reopening the road, he did what he just said was not possible. He guaranteed that he would reopen the road, and have it done in a week.
It was the best possible outcome. Not only were we not arrested, the road crews destroying the roads around Pitkin were pulled, and the Powderhouse Gulch Road was reconstructed.
It took more than 40 hours to restore the road the dozer had previously ruined.
The USFS is a unelected federal agency with limited jurisdiction. Although the USFS may have power to destroy its own “National Forest System roads,” it has no power to close let alone destroy, “a road that has been authorized by a legally documented right-of-way held by a State, county, or other local public road authority,” that is, a road protected under the principles of RS2477, an old mining statute securing established right-of-ways.
The men of Pitkin understood this distinction and pulled the curtain back from the charade by calling Ranger Murphy’s bluff. Had arrests been made, the men would have to be charged criminally. The only violation they could have been charged with is violating road closure order GMUG-2011-08 issued by Forest Supervisor Charles Richmond restricting the use of vehicles (including mountain bikes and skateboards) on National Forest System trails.
Powderhouse Gulch is not listed on the three-page order.
Had Murphy ordered the men arrested rather than ordering the road restored, federal prosecutors would not have been able to obtain a conviction, and instead the Forest Service’s usurpation and destruction would have been spotlighted.
Although it is a right-of-way through the National Forest, the Powderhouse Gulch Road is not a “National Forest System road.” It is a county road, property belonging to the People of Colorado. It is protected by all the principles afforded to property.
Because we, the people local to the area, took it upon ourselves to restore the county road the USFS had destroyed, the crime committed against the People of Colorado under the color of USFS authority is now exposed for anyone willing to see.
I suspect what we are witnessing is the unlawful occupation and destruction of historic county roads for the purpose of merely adding more roadless acreage to wilderness areas.
So, final thoughts on Pitkin vs the USFS.
First off, I would like to thank David Justice for writing this. I have searched the web far and wide looking for a collaboration of this incident, but have found nothing. I figure this has ether been censored by the Feds or no one else cares, but please if anyone finds some more info let me know.
Second, I had been getting really tired of hearing one story after another of the Forest Service and BLM throwing their weight around and how all the folks in the 4×4/offroad community have to bend over and kiss their Royal Hieny so it is great to hear of some solid US citizens standing up to their authority and WINNING! I think there are some real lessons to be learned from all this and how to deal with the Feds and how they manage “our land”.