Guest Blog: Bike Trails Threatened ... ?

Carol (our resident historian and knower of all things related to land and dinosaur bones) shares her first of many (we hope) blog posts for Hottman Law Office:

Several articles hit the newswire today regarding a Supreme Court decision in an "obscure" Wyoming case.  Read Here or Here.

Landownership and property rights have been a long standing issue of contention in the American West.  Land can be bought and sold without rights to the water that runs through it or the minerals that lie under it.  Indeed, rights to private property were a key tenet to the founders of the United States, and our laws and regulations have developed around it.  For instance, fossils found on private property belong to the landowner - not to the people or to the government; in most other countries fossil resources are the property of the people.  They cannot be sold for individual profit.  

At the same time, the government has long allowed private uses of public lands.  Through leases, cattle and sheep graze in national forests, and commercial logging operations cut down hundreds of thousands of trees.  The government can use public lands to trade for privately held land.

According to, the Brandt family was granted this 83 acre tract of land in the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest in Wyoming by the government in exchange for a larger piece of land.  The family understood that the land had a railroad right of way - a rail line could be built across the property at anytime.  Once the railroad abandoned the right of way in the 1990s, the Brandts argued that property reverted to the land owners with no further claims from the railroads or government.  The government thought otherwise and built a multi-use trail on the corridor of land. The Brandts sued and the Supreme Court ruled in their favor.  The land is theirs.  The bike trail cannot cross their land.

Private property claims against the common good.  Sure, a bike trail sounds great to me - I could ride more places right out of my front door!  But what if it were a trail that allowed four-wheelers? Or snowmobiles?  Those are loud, I would argue!  But they would allow more people to experience the beauty of the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest, others might say.  

As people around the country clamor for increased access to resources including safe streets, sidewalks, access to parks and open space, I think we will see more cases of private property rights pushing against providing access to all citizens.