Terry Tribune Editorial
There is no doubt, the Scenic View outlook provides an amazing view of eastern Montana badlands and is a Prairie County gem. It’s a place residents have taken friends and family, both in and out-of-state, to show off the hidden beauty of our county. From early morning drives to late afternoon picnics, residents have always known Scenic View is available to them. That is, until recently.
What seems to be in doubt now is accessibility.
Being able to access public lands that are intended to offer the stunning view to rich and poor and young and old is now being limited. Today – not tomorrow, not a year from now - but today, access to many is being denied.
When landowner Michael Karrels installed a gate straddling a cattle guard, then posted a sign that reads, “Private Property,” onto that gate, which is located in the middle of the Scenic View Road, it was made clear the intention was people control - not cattle control.
Some might argue that the gate is not locked therefore access is not being denied. But the real question is whether access is being limited. With our county’s distinction of being one of the most elderly populated in the state, it is unlikely many residents, either young or old, would attempt crossing the cattle guard to open the gate. If the cattle guard doesn’t deter most, the private property sign placed on the gate will.
The sign implies that Scenic View Road is private property. But does Scenic View Road really belong to landowner Karrels?
County crews have been maintaining Scenic View Road from at least 1989 to 2007, according to recent county road department records. Although no one seems ready to declare the road a county owned road, it seems clear tax dollars have been used to maintain it.
Some might argue that landowner Karrels is attempting to limit traffic on Scenic View Road because of liability issues. If an accident involving a fatality were to occur on Scenic View Road, due to the road’s condition, who would be liable? If this is a concern, Montana legal precedent could be researched. How many landowners in the state of Montana have lost everything, due to a lawsuit from a fatal accident that occurred on a gas tax road running through portions of their private property? Although not knowing the answer to that question, it does seem very unlikely that many landowners, if any, have lost everything due to such an occurrence.
Common sense seems to hold that, if anyone, those who are maintaining the road would be held legally responsible. It is true, common sense does not always seem to reign in legality issues.
Where common sense needs to reign is in the balance of respecting private property while ensuring access for all to the Scenic View outlook.
A sign posted on private property that runs adjacent to a gas tax road could be an easy answer to a land owner’s concern. The sign could simply read, “Stay on the road. Private Property. Trespassers will be prosecuted.” Another sign, either posted by the state, county or landowner could read, “Scenic View Road is not an all weather road. Travel at your own risk.” These two signs seem to be a quick answer to a simple problem.
If the public allows, in quiet apathy, this obstruction on Scenic View Road, a gas tax, county maintained road, to go uncontested, then maybe the public’s access to Scenic View should be denied. Stepping out and speaking up on easy accessibility to the Scenic View outlook is not a radical idea. Protest of such an obstruction is not unneighborly, but is simply a way to ensure the right for future generations to enjoy a county treasure.
Our elected officials – from the county commissioners to the mayor and town council – are in place to listen and act in the public’s best interest.
If an interest regarding access to Scenic View exists, silence is not the answer.
Published April 23, 2008