Bullock Files Suit to Protect Public Access on Tenderfoot Road
Attorney General Steve Bullock has filed a lawsuit in district court to safeguard the public’s right of access on Tenderfoot Road near White Sulphur Springs in Meagher County.
Documents filed with the court Friday show that Tenderfoot Road was petitioned and accepted as a county road in 1900, and that the public has used that road to access thousands of acres of state, public and private land in the Tenderfoot Creek drainage for more than a century.
“Access to wildlands, rivers and streams is part of who we are as Montanans and, when in conflict, should be decided by our courts, not one individual. As Montanans, we appreciate concern for private property rights, but state law makes it clear that public access to thousands of acres of public lands that have been used by hunters for generations can’t be controlled by a private landowner,” Bullock said.
According to the state’s brief, Tenderfoot Road is “a public road that has provided homestead access and access for fishing, hunting and other recreational activities in the Tenderfoot Creek drainage for generations.” Trails at the end of Tenderfoot Creek provide motorized and non-motorized access to thousands of acres of public land, including a point overlooking the Smith River canyon and two popular National Forest System trails – Tenderfoot Creek Trail No. 342 and Bald Hills Trail No. 345.
Recently, however, a private landowner gated the road and blocked motor vehicle access to Tenderfoot Creek.
In addition, the locked gate is hampering the work of the Tenderfoot Acquisition project, a joint effort by the USDA Forest Service, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and the Tenderfoot Trust, a volunteer group. These groups are working together to acquire lands owned by the Bair Ranch Foundation in an effort to consolidate ownership of checkerboard lands in the Tenderfoot Creek area.
Bullock’s lawsuit asks the court to order the landowner to remove the gate and to prevent him from otherwise interfering with the public’s right of access.