County reopens privately blocked road

by JOSH MCDONALD
Staff Reporter | September 10, 2020 9:54 AM

PINE CREEK –– Questions over ownership and enforcement resulted in Shoshone County work crews removing a man-made road block Wednesday morning.

A few days ago, County officials were made aware of a situation where a road had been blocked by Pine Creek resident Joe Avery, in effort to dissuade a group of off-road enthusiasts from utilizing a stretch of unmaintained road past the end of Pine Creek Road.

Avery, whose family owns much of the property near the road’s end, used logs for the blockade, which made the road completely impassable for anything over 60 inches wide.

According to Shoshone County Commissioner Mike Fitzgerald, Avery himself does not own the road and was asked 10 days prior (to Wednesday) to take down his makeshift blockade or the County would do it themselves and Avery could be billed for their efforts.

Avery stated that he told the Shoshone County Public Works Department that he would happily remove the blockade if they could present him with a court order demanding that he do so.

But that’s where things get sticky for everyone involved because it seems as though no one knows who has authority over the roads, trails, and creek beds beyond the end of Pine Creek Road.

According to Avery, who doesn’t claim ownership to the roads in question, the roads that the off-roaders are trying to access are either closed for the season or are trails that specifically prohibit motorized vehicles from using them.

Avery would like to know exactly what the rules and regulations are for the road(s) in question, because no one, including those with Shoshone County, has any idea who owns the road, where the boundary line for the road is, and what can and can’t be used on the road.

According to a 2008 BLM (Bureau of Land Management) recreation map (the most recent available), there are two roads near Avery’s property that are popular among the recreators question on the map- one of them is a BLM road that has restrictions that close the road from August 25 until January 1 annually, and the other section of road is specifically designated non-motorized use only.

Avery stated that when the BLM road gets gated up during the closure period, people attempt to access some of the trails beyond the gate by going on the non-motorized trail.

Not only that, but just beyond his father’s property, Avery discussed a swath of land that is privately owned by a timber company that doesn’t allow motorized vehicles on it as well.

Avery also claimed that he was also approached by a now-retired BLM official who asked him to fall a tree across the trail section to keep motorized vehicles out.

Although he has no issue with people recreating on the many roads and trails near his and his family’s properties, there is an issue of folks abusing some of the privileges that they have been afforded, including peeling out in the turn around area that is owned by Avery’s family- which they have always allowed folks to use for parking and staging before heading up into the hills.

On Wednesday morning, the work crew from the County was greeted by a small group of Pine Creek residents who sided with Avery in hopes of keeping the road closed.

Beyond just the frustrations over the rules of access, their chief complaints include noise, dust, littering, and people abusing the area, but really also stem from the higher number of people using the trails this year compared to previous years.

Avery would like to have his questions answered, as well as the concerns of him and neighbors addressed.

Fitzgerald and the rest of the Board of County Commissioners have worked quite a bit over the years to keep roads open and allow people access to backcountry trails and terrain.

“We at the County are not in the business of closing roads,” Fitzgerald said. “I think people are mixing up the issues here. They don’t want the Jeep Club going up there, but the problem is that they have a permit through BLM, which allows them to go up there.”

The aforementioned BLM permit is a single day permit, for what the club calls their Cabin Fever run and while the details of the permit are still being examined, it is clear that BLM has given them permission to use the road in some capacity, but for a single day.

The road is publicly owned, but the stewardship of it is unknown if it belongs to Shoshone County, BLM, or some other public entity.

“Mr. Avery does have property along the road, but the boundaries are clear that it doesn’t include the road,” Fitzgerald said. “If you look at all of the records, deeds, and signatures and there are references to a county road running through the property. Ownership may not be clear, but we do know that Mr. Avery does not own the road.”

As Fitzgerald mentioned, the County is not looking to close or reduce access in any capacity unless there is a serious reason to do so.

The North Idaho Trailblazers did volunteer their time to keep the road maintained, and even sought out comment from Pinehurst Mayor Bob Jutila, an off-road enthusiast himself who voiced support for all parties involved.

This post from the North Idaho ORV Park and Events Facebook page was posted on Wednesday afternoon.

“To the recreational users, please be kind and respectful to the residents on the W. Pine Creek road. It is understandable that some of them may not like the traffic generated by the access. Please try to do your part by not driving excessively fast, or making excessive noise. When parking at the end of the road. If you see garbage, pick it up. Even if it is not yours. We would like to get along with the neighboring property owners and keep the road open for all recreational users to enjoy! Thanks to everyone for your help!”

Avery himself is hoping that now that there is attention being drawn to the situation, hopefully this will lead to some meaningful conversation.

“I would like to get all of us at the table to discuss this situation,” Avery said. “We don’t want to cut off access, but we would like to know what the actual rules are for that area and come to some sort of compromise that works for everyone involved. I’m not looking to pick a fight with anyone, I just think I deserve some answers to the questions that I have asked.”

The Shoshone News-Press will continue to follow this story for any further developments.