River bottom parcel prompts land dispute in Byers Canyon
HOT SULPHUR SPRINGS — A small section of private land on the Colorado River that was once believed to be public access and was popular with local anglers was closed to the general public last year, prompting a months-long back-and-forth between the landowner and residents of Hot Sulphur Springs.
The section of the Colorado River running from Hot Sulphur Springs west through Byers Canyon to the Hot Sulphur State Wildlife Area has long been one of the most popular areas for river anglers in Grand County. Most of the river bottom between Hot Sulphur and the State Wildlife Area is officially designated as a right of way, according to the Grand County Assessor’s Office Parcel Viewer Map, and is bordered by land owned by the United States or the state of Colorado.
The right-of-way designation, and public land parcels that provide access to the right of way, mean the general public can and often does access the Colorado River bottom in Byers Canyon for angling. Fly-fishermen are common sites throughout the canyon during the high country’s warmer months.
Closer to the town of Hot Sulphur, though, just west of town and at the eastern end of Byers Canyon, there is a small triangular sliver of river bottom that is owned by an entity called Middlefork LLO, which is owned by a Missouri-based developer. Additional parcels of private land, also owned by Middlefork, border the triangular river bottom parcel. Anglers historically used the sections in question, which are located just south of the intersection of County Road 20 and the Union Pacific Railroad, even though they were not actually public access.
“I have been fishing that piece of land since I was seven,” said Bob McVay, mayor of Hot Sulphur Springs. “I am 71 now.”
According to McVay, Middlefork purchased the river bottom parcel last summer, and shortly thereafter put up no trespassing signs. The town became aware of the signs when local citizens and town workers noticed them during the summer. When Middlefork installed the no trespassing signs on the property, a cabal was also installed across the width of the river, which would limit floating access down the river.
“They posted the no trespassing signs,” McVay said. “Which is totally legal. But they also put a cable across the river. Which is not legal.”
Landowners in the state are not permitted to block floating access to the Colorado. Rafters and other river floaters are allowed to flow beyond and through private sections of the river so long as neither rafts nor people touch the private river bottom or private land adjacent the river.
According to McVay, the issues surrounding the small triangular parcel west of Hot Sulphur were made additionally complicated because town officials believed the town itself owned the parcel.
On Oct. 9, Middlefork filed a suit against the town of Hot Sulpur Springs and several other individuals for a quiet title action. Middlefork’s suit was meant to clarify which entities or individuals owned the land at the heart of the dispute.
McVay said surveyors reviewed the situation and determined land was the property of Middlefork.
“That is his land,” McVay said. “He is within his rights. He can limit or cut off access to that land.”
McVay noted that some local individuals have raised the possibility of establishing a recreational easement on the property as a way to allow continued public access to the parcel. He added that the suggestion was merely informal and that the town is not currently in talks with Middlefork about such action. McVay confirmed that the issues surrounding the river bottom parcel do not impact Pioneer Park, located just east of the Middlefork parcel, or its recreational opportunities in any way.
Middlefork’s legal counsel did not respond to requests for comment on this story.
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