Big News: Four Falls is OUR Land - Mountain Buzz

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Old 07-14-2013   #1
Denver, Colorado
Paddling Since: 2004
Join Date: Apr 2004
Posts: 3,107
Big News: Four Falls is OUR Land

We are busting out the champagne here at Bailey Fest HQ. The Four Falls Liberation Project culminates over a year of work that has proved that Four Falls on Bailey is on public land, which means its OUR land! The project is the result of detailed research of the land title and survey documents of Four Falls, followed by work with the Forest Service and then the BLM Cadastral Survey Team to correctly mark the forest service / private property line near Four Falls.

The old line was marked by a cable crossing the river at the end of the bottom pool below Four Falls. The updated, and legally binding survey conducted by the BLM, correctly marks the property line up on the hill on river right, which means that all of Four Falls is public. The property line crosses the north fork upstream of four falls around the big pool a couple hundred yards upstream of Four Falls. Paddlers are free to scout, set safety, lap, lunch, hang out, camp, take pics, and generally do whatever you want at Four Falls.

So thats it in a nutshell. If you want to hear the full story, here's how it happened...

The first year of Bailey Fest, over 100 paddlers ran Bailey. The landowners (I'll call them the neighbors from now on) weren't there, we left no trace, and there were no issues. The second Bailey Fest, one of the landowners was out at the falls on the weekend of Bailey Fest. I had never run into the neighbors before, despite paddling Bailey for many years. The neighbors got really fired up with several paddlers. I paddled in Sunday hoping to resolve the unforeseen conflict.

I got the neighbors card after talking to him on Sunday. I called him up that next week, had a good talk with him, and thought we were all good. I was wrong. The neighbors sent me a demanding email commanding me to control the flow of paddlers,so that there would never be more than 9 paddlers at a time at Four Falls. They threatened to call them Sheriff and press tresspassing charges if more than 9 people were at Four Falls at one time. They sent harassing emails to the sheriff and the park county planning department making false claims about Bailey Fest. I spoke with them a few more times and diplomatically tried to work some sort of amicable understanding. This was for naught, and it became clear that the neighbors were now playing hardball, and trying to intimidate me and subvert anything to do with Bailey Fest they could. I later learned that the neighbors had some ongoing disputes with the Bailey Fest Campround owner, and that I and Bailey Fest had unwittingly jumped into the crossfire of the local landowners dispute.

When I first negotiated the Tunnel release for Bailey Fest I was ecstatic! When I realized that Bailey Fest might have unwittingly sparked a turf war that had the potential to shut Four Falls down I felt that brooding sense of dread when you know a huge beatdown is on the horizon. I gritted my teeth and resolved to continue on path despite the uncertainty of the unresolved neighbor issue. It was too late in the game. I was already committed. I resolved to do whatever I could to figure this out and make it work. If I didn't it would be the end of Bailey Fest and potentially portaging and scouting at Four Falls.

A few weeks later I was paddling Bailey. Floating through the paddle in my mind wandered to the weight of the issue of the landowners at Four Falls. At the bottom pool below Four Falls I looked downstream at the cable crossing the river with the private property sign. I looked back upstream at the awesome set of cascading waterfalls framed by cliff walls and a forest of trees. The skeptic in me thought it was almost too good to be true to have a property line set at the bottom of the beautiful set of rapids with roadless forest service on the other side. If you pushed your property line, there were no neighbors checking in to call you out. I decided then that I would research the land situation and try to figure out what was going on.

I got the GPS coordinates at Four Falls to compare to private property records. After talking to lots of Park County government folks, and digging around in the online archives, I finally figured out who owned the property next to four falls. I got the Park county GIS folks to send me a map with the river and the property outline of the four falls landowners. I got back an ambiguous map from Park County.

The original land documents for the Four Falls landowners showed the north property line to be the township line between Townships 7 and 8. The park county map showed two separate township lines. One line was more north that would mean four falls was private. The other line was a little to the south and would mean four falls was public. I called Park County back to see which line was the legal line. They didn't know, but they told me they used BLM maps. I called BLM folks and after several confusing twists, it finally started making sense. One line was from a 1980's topo which showed four falls as private. The other line was from a 2000's topo.

I finally figured it out when i found the detailed BLM Survey Records for township 7S range 72 W online. There was an original survey done around 1860-1870 to set the township line. There were errors in the original survey when laying the north line due to not being able to find the exact corner from the adjoining township. This survey was used for the property transactions around four falls in the late 1800s, and the landowners would have thought they owned all of four falls. The error of the township corner was fixed in a dependent resurvey in the 1990's and the result was that the north township line shifted south by a couple hundred feet. The new line had four falls on public property, but the line was never remarked and I doubt the landowners even knew this happened. It was a minor correction, but the fact that Four Falls was so close to the line would make all the difference.

I was in the process of figuring all this out leading up to the third Bailey Fest. I wasn't too worried because I knew what the real survey was and felt like i had an ace up my sleeve. I spoke with the sheriff and park county planning and they were in full support of Bailey Fest. I would just go ahead with the fest and see what happened. What happened was that the neighbors hung out at four falls for hours yelling at paddlers, yelling at me, telling my friends that I needed to die, and harassing everyone within earshot. They put up cones and home depot buckets and flagging tape up in a futile attempt to over control the situation at four falls.

I knew that the forest service was the landowner of the property north of the neighbors land. I called up the district ranger after Bailey Fest and told him the story. I told him that irate and antagonistic landowners were harassing national forest users on forest service land while claiming that it was private property. The ranger noted that they had done several cases like this, and that he was obligated by his position to maintain the legal boundary. He sent the BLM Cadastral survey group (they are responsible for the public land survey in the US) a request to research it. After speaking to the BLM intermittently waiting on prioritization and funding issues, i finally got the call that they would send a crew in in the next couple of weeks. The forest service ranger told me that as soon as he got a report from the BLM he would inform the neighbors that their property line had been officially reposted. I knew Four Falls was public, but i needed official BLM results proving it, and the survey was done this July 10.

So thats my big surprise for this years Bailey Fest. Four Falls is public land. Bailey now has public access at the put in, all the major rapids and the main canyon, and the takeout, meaning that Bailey is safe from the threat of private landowners shutting down river access or hampering our access to this beautiful gem. It also means that the last major obstacle to ensuring that Bailey Fest can continue for years to come has been removed. The sense of relief and joy at bringing this issue to such a fortuitous conclusion has me on cloud nine.

Whats ironic about it is that if the neighbors would have worked something out, they would still likely have "ownership" of four falls, the paddling community would have still been walking on egg shells at four falls trying to placate them. By being antagonistic and spiteful, they cost themselves their exclusice rights to the thing they were fuming about in the first place.

Going forward, paddlers can do what they normally would at four falls with the understanding that it is our land and the neighbors have no rights to dictate anything now. I would urge the paddling community to treat all landowners as neighbors with respect though. The landowners at the put in that run the fly fishing place are good folks. They helped build the new put in that has been really good for us. The Bailey Fest Campground owner is super cool. There are multiple landowners in the "neighbors" at four falls. The guy that owns the dream house is cool. Its only the one set of landowners that were the issue (older couple with the red beater pickup).

See you at Bailey Fest, where we will celebrate the liberation of Four Falls!

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Old 07-15-2013   #2
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Telluride, Colorado
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Holy crap you killed it! Nice work, way to stay in there and push on...hope to make it this year! Thanks Ian
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Old 07-15-2013   #3
lookout mnt., Colorado
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thanks for all the hard work! amazing outcome
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Old 07-15-2013   #4
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Acupuncturist, Colorado
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Thank you!

Thank you for all your work! Great job
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Old 07-15-2013   #5
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longmont, Colorado
Join Date: Jul 2011
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After seeing how upset the "supposed land owners" were last year do you anticipate any type of backlash? I can't imagine that they are very happy with the Kayak community after finding this out. Although it was never their land in their beliefs it was theirs and now they have lost it due to a bunch of Kayakers.

Nice work on researching this and getting the right parties involved. This is a big win for everyone in the whitewater community. Can't wait for Bailey Fest 2013. Turn on the tunnel!
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Old 07-15-2013   #6
Join Date: Jun 2004
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Well done, sir! That's a fantastic result to some hard work. If you've been paddling long you've gotten used to being harassed by private landowners who always seem to have the authorities on their side. This is a real departure, and a product of some dedicated effort. Awesome.
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Old 07-15-2013   #7
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Denver, Colorado
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Congratulations Ian, this was a big win.
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Old 07-15-2013   #8
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Ian, that is some damn fine work!! WELL DONE!!! Someone buy this man some beer at BaileyFest!
"Don't f$&@ing eddy out, just run it! Whaddya doin??" -LMyers
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Old 07-15-2013   #9
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Golden, Colorado
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This land is our land, this land ain't your land...

Great work Ian.
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Old 07-15-2013   #10
Denver, Colorado
Paddling Since: 2002
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Amazing work, Ian.
You are a hero in this community.
HOWEVER, now it is UP TO US, the kayaking community, to prove that we are good stewards of the land and the river.
Let's all be respectful of the land, the river, each other, and our neighbors, during Baileyfest and every other time we pass through that place.
Leave no trace.
Thanks again, Ian.
-Mike G.
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