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Some 14er trails involve trespassing

Brief by Central Staff

Recreation – August 2005 – Colorado Central Magazine

The usual routes up some of Colorado’s easier 14ers go across private property – old mining claims that have been patented in Park County west of Alma. And this summer, the U.S. Forest Service, which administers the land around the claims, has started telling hikers to stay off those mountains unless they have written permission from the dozens of property owners.

The peaks at issue are usually climbed from Kite Lake. They include Mt. Democrat, 14,148; Mt. Lincoln, 14,286; Mt. Bross, 14,172 (named for William Bross, lieutenant governor of Illinois 1865-69 and the owner of nearby mining property.)

Also affected is Mt. Cameron, 14,238 (presumably named for Simon Cameron, noted for his corruption and service as Lincoln’s first secretary of war). Cameron is generally not considered a separate peak, because the ridge between it and Lincoln dips only 138 feet, and the authorities prefer at least 300 feet of drop.

Mount Lincoln
Mount Lincoln

Back to trespassing. Sara Mayben, South Park District Ranger, put it this way: “The bottom line is there is no public access to those peaks.” She added that “We can’t stop the public from trespassing, but we will take steps to make it clear that they are,” and one of those steps was the distribution of flyers and the denial of group permits to climb those peaks.

One property owner, Maury Reiber, told the Denver Post that he and fellow Mosquito Range landowners fear that someone could fall down an old mine shaft and then file a lawsuit. He said he had boarded up mines and put gates across routes, only to see the barriers torn down by vandals.

“These issues need to be addressed,” he said, and “if we have to be hard-nosed and say no one goes up there, that’s the way it’s got to be.”

The news wasn’t welcome in Park County. As is the case throughout Central Colorado, public-lands tourism is an important part of the economy, and accessible 14ers are a considerable attraction.

The Forest Service estimates that last year, there were about 500,000 trips up Colorado’s 53 14ers. That works out to 9,433 for each peak, or about 100 people per peak for each summer day on average. While the traffic isn’t distributed evenly, it does indicate that if you’re looking for solitude on a climb, don’t start up a 14er.

As for trespassing, we don’t expect to see Park County’s 100-bed jail fill to capacity on that account. Under Colorado law, criminal trespass comes in three degrees. First-degree is a Class 5 felony that could bring up to two years in prison, but it requires entering a domicile or vehicle, which wouldn’t be the case here.

Second-degree criminal trespass includes entering an area which is fenced and posted, and it’s a Class 3 misdemeanor. That law might apply; the penalty is a fine from $50 to $750 and up to a year in the county jail. Third-degree criminal trespass covers everything else; it’s a Class 1 petty offense with a fine of up to $500 and a possible six months in the slammer.

We have trouble imagining sheriff’s deputies patrolling the 14er routes, and we also have trouble imagining that local juries would be in any hurry to convict. But we hope that Park County can work out something with the landowners – maybe easements, or perhaps an imaginative claim that the trails are public rights of way under the federal RS2477 law.