A Redstone-area homeowner’s association illegally closed a road last summer that’s been open to the public continuously for at least the past 135 years, according to a lawsuit filed Wednesday by Pitkin County commissioners.
The suit accuses the Rock Creek Association, which represents homeowners in a subdivision north of Redstone, of interfering with and stealing property from Pitkin County when it installed a gate on Dorais Way and cut off public access in August. Dorais Way is a portion of the historic Rock Creek Wagon Road and former Crystal River Railway line, the suit states.
In particular, the August closure cut off the public’s access to most of Filoha Meadows, a 185-acre slice of Pitkin County taxpayer-owned open space, which is only open to the public from July 1 to Sept. 30.
“Members of the public have used Rock Creek Wagon Road through (the Dorais Way section) for travel, commerce and recreation without interruption since at least 1885 until Aug. 28, 2019, when RCA closed and locked a gate at approximately the intersection of Redstone Boulevard — also part of Rock Creek Wagon Road — and the southerly terminus of Dorais Way,” according to the lawsuit filed by Pitkin County Assistant Attorney Richard Neily.
The five-member board of commissioners is asking a District Court judge for three times “the amount of actual (monetary) damages sustained” because of the RCA’s “interference with and theft of property owned by Pitkin County,” the lawsuit states. In addition, they are asking for a permanent injunction to stop the homeowners “from interfering with the public right to use that portion of Rock Creek Wagon Road,” according to the suit.
A lawyer for the defendants was not listed in the suit. Phone messages left Thursday seeking comment from Terry Knapp and Phil Youngman, RCA’s acting co-presidents, and three other members of the homeowners association were not returned. The Rock Creek Association is made up of homeowners in the Wild Rose Ranch Subdivision outside Redstone.
In the Aug. 28 letter, the RCA Board of Directors wrote to inform “friends and neighbors” that it had purchased the portion of Dorais Way from Redstone Boulevard “north to the pre-existing private segments of the roadway,” according to the letter, which is included in the lawsuit.
“Dorais Way is now closed to all public access, including vehicle, pedestrian and bicycle traffic,” the letter states.
Because of the purchase, RCA homeowners were liable for the road, which frequently sees vandalism, littering of property with human and animal waste and “often quite reckless access … to the dangers of rapidly moving water” in the Crystal River, according to the letter. This “unacceptable liability” requires “the permanent closure of Dorais Way to public access,” the letter states.
In a conciliatory move to area residents, however, the homeowners’ association offered a caveat.
“The RCA recognizes that friends and neighbors in the Redstone community use Dorais Way occasionally for pleasant walks or to visit residents who live along Dorais Way,” according to the August letter. “This type of pedestrian access may continue if an RCA member will provide access and take responsibility for you as a guest.”
The edict apparently didn’t go over well with at least one Redstone area resident, who was out for a hike Sept. 6 in Filoha Meadows with his wife and a friend.
On the way back to their car, the trio was confronted by a member of the homeowners’ association, who was out walking his dog, according to a Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office report.
“What are you doing here?” the 76-year-old homeowners’ association member said, according to the report.
The 74-year-old hiker responded that the road was public, that they were not trespassing and that he’d been “doing this for 20 years,” the Sheriff’s Office report states.
“(The hiker) told me the man then stepped in front of him and began chest bumping him and said, ‘You know this is private property and you are trespassing,’” according to the report. “(The hiker) told me he tried to go around the man and he kept getting in front of him and bumping him with his chest as if he wanted a confrontation.”
The hiker’s wife and friend also separately told the sheriff’s deputy that the homeowners’ association member was the aggressor in the situation.
The homeowner, however, said the hiker was the chest-bumper and “threatened to kick his ass,” the report states. He also told the deputy the road was private and asked how he would like it if people urinated, defecated and littered on his property.
“I told him that I would not like it, but that didn’t mean I could close public access,” Deputy Josh Bennett wrote in the report. “(The homeowners’ association member) told me there will be problems.”
That was the third time during Bennett’s interaction with the man that he referenced “problems.” The first was right after the deputy arrived at the man’s house, according to the report.
“As I entered the home on the table just inside the door … (was) what appeared to be a sawed-off shotgun,” the report states. “‘Don’t let that intimidate you,’ (the man said) as he pointed at the sawed-off shotgun.
“I asked him if that was for the bears and he responded, ‘It’s for problems.’”
No one was charged in the case.
The legal claim to Dorais Way is complicated and involves what is known as “quitclaim deed” the homeowners’ association received from two mining companies, which conveyed “whatever property interest, if any” it had in the former railroad line, according to the lawsuit. That interest can be tracked back to the person who originally acquired the property from the U.S. government in November 1894, the suit states.
Pitkin County wants the judge to find that Dorais Way is and has been a public highway and that the mining company and railroad before it abandoned the property after the track was torn up in 1942 for use in the war effort, according to the lawsuit. That means the mining company would have had no interest to convey to the homeowners’ association, the suit states.