A Denver attorney working for the city said a dispute about public access to trails on the Humble Ranch property, on the south side of Emerald Mountain off Routt County Road 14, could continue despite a ruling this month in Humble Ranch’s favor. The land is a critical portion of Emerald Mountain conservation efforts begun more than a decade ago.

Photo by Matt Stensland

A Denver attorney working for the city said a dispute about public access to trails on the Humble Ranch property, on the south side of Emerald Mountain off Routt County Road 14, could continue despite a ruling this month in Humble Ranch’s favor. The land is a critical portion of Emerald Mountain conservation efforts begun more than a decade ago.

Judges support Humble Ranch, rule against city

State Court of Appeals rules against land trust in trail-related case

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— A court ruling this month fanned the flames of a long-simmering dispute between the city and private landowners regarding owners’ rights, land conservation and efforts that began more than a decade ago to increase public access on the south flank of Emerald Mountain.

The Colorado Court of Appeals, in a March 11 ruling, upheld a trial court decision that the city of Steamboat Springs does not have the right to build a public cabin on private property at Humble Ranch, off Routt County Road 14 south of Steamboat Springs. Three judges concurred on the agreement, which also stipulated that Humble Ventures LLC, including ranch co-owners Ed and Cheri Trousil, is not obligated to build the cabin within any certain timeframe and can do so at its own discretion. The ruling, by extension, does not require Humble Ranch to open certain trail segments on the property to the public.

And there’s the rub.

Former Routt County Com­­missioner Ben Beall was the county’s representative in the Yampa River System Legacy Pro­ject and also is a former chairman of the Emerald Moun­­­tain Partnership. He said building the cabin and opening trails on Humble Ranch to the public were key components of those two groups’ correlated efforts a decade ago.

Ed Trousil said those components are not required in the property’s real estate documents. The city and the Yampa Valley Land Trust have easements on the property.

“We thought a possible use of that land was to facilitate a public cabin site sometime in the future, at our discretion,” Ed Trousil said. “We never gave ownership rights to that site, we just reserved that site in the conservation easement. … If the cabin doesn’t exist, then the trails to that cabin don’t exist, as well — that was the crux of our lawsuit.”

Humble Ventures filed suit against the city in Routt County District Court in July 2007 to prevent the city from building a public cabin or opening certain trails to the public. The district court ruled that the city must restrict public trail access until Humble Ventures built the “community wilderness cabin” at its own discretion.

The Court of Appeals upheld that ruling.

Legacy efforts

The legacy project brought together numerous entities including the state Division of Wildlife, the Yampa Valley Land Trust, the city of Steamboat Springs, the Bureau of Land Management, Routt and Moffat counties, private landowners and more in a combined multi-million dollar effort to create permanent land use policies for nearly 4,000 acres on and adjacent to Emerald Mountain’s south side.

Ed and Cheri Trousil bought the 1,500-acre property in 1999 as part of the legacy project. Kevin Bennett was president of Steamboat Springs City Council at the time. Bennett said the legacy project gave the Trousils $950,000, among other considerations, to help them close on the purchase. A Land Trust official also cited that figure Tuesday.

Beall and Bennett said trail access on Humble Ranch is a crucial component of the much larger system of public trails for mountain bikers, hikers and others on Emerald Mountain and adjacent areas.

“When we invited (Ed) Trou­sil to be a part of this project, it was only made available to him with the trails — that is the reason we did it. Public access and conservation were the goals of the project,” Bennett said Tuesday. “This was probably the best deal to any conservation buyer, by far, and it is sad and a real loss to the community that it appears now that the public access component has been greatly diminished or removed.”

Beall said the land use agreement was clear when the Trousils purchased Humble Ranch.

“He bought the property with the trails already on his plat — he’s opposed to the community trails that we were setting up through the Emerald Mountain process and the legacy process,” Beall said. “He knew exactly what the partnership was doing … as far as opening up Emerald Mountain for public use.”

Trousil refuted the notion that by suing the city and not allowing public access to certain trails he violated the trust and vision behind Humble Ranch’s involvement in the legacy project.

“Trust and vision is not real estate law — real estate law is governed by written documents,” Trousil said. “The documents have always been unambiguous.”

Public vs. private

Trousil said one trail on the property is open to the public. The Agate Creek trail runs from the state DOW parking lot on C.R. 14 through Humble Ranch to the Emerald Mountain state wildlife area, a distance Trousil said is about three miles.

That trail is open for public and equestrian use but not for bicycles, Trousil said. He said it is subject to the DOW’s seasonal closures, from Dec. 1 to June 30 annually, to protect elk habitat.

The question of whether the city must close its Humble Ranch trail easements to the public when the state DOW closes access to the Emerald Mountain wildlife area also was part of the Court of Appeal’s ruling. The court reversed a ruling that said the city did not have to follow the DOW closures but remanded the issue for further proceedings.

The trails involved in the lawsuit and appeal are those accessed from the Agate Creek trail. Trousil said those trails, which number “about five” and lead to different areas, remain closed.

Trousil said he is “adamant about protecting our wildlife habitat” and said the legacy project “resulted in many excellent results including the Emerald Mountain State Park, Chuck Lewis State Park, city owned land on the corner of highways 131 and 40, and the Humble Ranch Education & Therapy Center.” The center provides outdoor-oriented therapy for people with special needs.

Denver attorney Tom Lyons, working for the city, said the March 11 ruling might not be the last in the case.

“It’s not over,” Lyons said.

Comments

Scott Wedel 4 years ago

Once again it is shown that our local government is inept when dealing with real estate. That they cannot figure out when creating a plan for a cabin and trails that it should be specific enough to be enforceable.

And we were supposed to believe that the SB 700 annexation agreement was going to enforce the promises made by SB 700 developers?

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Scott Wedel 4 years ago

it is my recollection that the crux is the issue was bikes on the trails. That the owners were concerned about mtn bikes interfering with the special needs kid's horse activities. That there could have been an agreement for horse and walking trails, but the city's insistence that bikes be included caused the owners to fight the city.

And thus, it was exactly the imprecise nature of vision and verbally described plans that created the dispute in the first place. That it is entirely possible that the Trousils expected they were providing access to horse and walking trails and would have allowed that. Though, when the city insisted upon bikes then the easiest way for the Trousils to control the disputed trails was to use the flawed agreement to not allow the cabin and to keep the trails closed.

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housepoor 4 years ago

Yep, duped again.............just imagine the sink holes that would have surfaced in the SB700 contracts.

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Scott Wedel 4 years ago

I cannot find any archived articles about this dispute so I am having to rely purely on memory.

I do not recall that the Trousils initially took this position of trails closed because cabin is not built. I recall that there was an initial attempt to open the trails and build the cabin. Humble Ranch objected to bikes on the trails because they thought it would interfere with their work with horses and kids. The two sides did not reach an agreement.

I think there was then a sequence of: trying to require Humble Ranch to open the trails because of the easement, Humble Ranch responding that agreement says that isn't required until there is a cabin, City then tried to build a cabin on the easement, Humble Ranch going to local district court to stop it, Humble Ranch winning round 1, appeals court, Humble Ranch winning round 2, and now claims of Trousils knew there was supposed to be trails and an apparent threat of appealing again.

The Trousil's lawyers might be advising them to not make public comments and I do not know any of their opinions of any of this, but it seems entirely possible that they had entered into the agreement for trails in good faith. That just as they knew that the goal was opening up public access, that the City knew they were going to run a horse program for kids with special needs. So if the City was willing to go to the wall over the issue of bike access then they needed a far more specific agreement.

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toboyle105 4 years ago

You mean to tell me on 1500 acres there is not enough room to accomodate both? Its great that outdoor recreation will in the future be deternined by those with the money to close off access to any activity they dislike. I'm glad I'm from the "Live Free or Die State". If your property is given tax breaks you must provide public access to hunt, fish, ect. or you can pay a tax rate based on full development rights. Give me a million to buy some property around here, I'll give anyone access.

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boater1 4 years ago

scott, there was indeed a disagreement about bicycle use (as desired by the city) vrs humble ranch's desire for none...and this may be the the crux of the problem.

the agreement should be been fully spelled out on ALL points including access/cabin before a dime was given to Mr Trousil. sham on the city for that.

shame on Mr. Trousil changing the rules after he has got the $ and his property. the blood is on his hands now & this article in the newspaper does not help his cause with anyone in the county reading it.

people are feed up with groups getting public $ and seeing no benefit in return and so now people are looking at the humble ranch and the MILLION of public $ given to them and wondering what do we get in return??? not good for the humble ranch or their fund raising efforts the try every year nor any working relationship with the city or the county for that matter.

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boater1 4 years ago

You mean to tell me on 1500 acres there is not enough room to accomodate both? Its great that outdoor recreation will in the future be deternined by those with the money to close off access to any activity they dislike. I'm glad I'm from the "Live Free or Die State". If your property is given tax breaks you must provide public access to hunt, fish, ect. or you can pay a tax rate based on full development rights. Give me a million to buy some property around here, I'll give anyone access.


agreed. nothing wrong with creating to trails, one for bikes & 1 for hikes & horses. this works everywhere, so why can't the humble rnach figure this out?

...they got their public $ and now want to shut the door. the-not-so-humble-ranch

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robert nestora 4 years ago

I really think that the Trousil's should be ashamed of themselves, every year the community turns up at their fundraiser to give them money to support the therapy riding and many others donate their time. to thank the public who supports them in this way is unconscionable. maybe they should return the $950,000.

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Scott Wedel 4 years ago

It is not fair to judge them while the City is fighting them in court. As long as the City is fighting them in court then the Trousils could be operating under legal advice that they concede nothing or risk hurting their overall legal case.

So if they are concerned with public opinion and want to give the public the access that was a verbal promise of the purchase then once the City stops fighting them in court then they could allow using the trails for hiking and horses.

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toboyle105 4 years ago

Yeah, picture a cow with the Trousils yanking on the head and the City pulling the tail with the lawyers sitting on stools either side milking that baby for all its worth.

Revalue thier property and tax the crap out of them so the city's taxpayers can get their money back.

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housepoor 4 years ago

this is the same bs as purchase of development rights, huge payout of tax dollars and NO ACCESS big scamwelfare for the wealthy these are the same folks who bitch about providing heatlh care for poor children

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toboyle105 4 years ago

Its funny back east where open land is hard to find but there are snowmobile trails winding a thru northern New England into Canadaon private land. All share in the use of those trails, be it skier, biker, snowmobiler or horse rider. A lot of land owners promote and care for their section of the trails. Rivers are much the same. The major rivers of Maine don't have the disputes that are going on here.

It seems here owners want it all. Its my river or my trail, you stay out. What selfish people.

Quit crying Trousils and work something out. The taxpayers gave you some money for whatever reason, you are wasting additional taxpayer money fighting like children in court .

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robert nestora 4 years ago

scot you seem to miss the point public opinion usually has a more valuable effect than the long delaying legal process. maybe the public besides for posting here should email the trousils with their opinions. i think the city should build a statue to ed trousil and put his quote:

“Trust and vision is not real estate law — real estate law is governed by written documents,” Trousil said. “The documents have always been unambiguous.”

on the base and whenever a developer makes a promise have him sign the promise in front of the statue.

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nxoby36 4 years ago

cause them to return the $950,000 with interest and tax them on all monies received in the past and future for their thinly disguised private "charity "

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brian ferguson 4 years ago

I say forget another trail up emerald, how about a trailhead at whistler park that goes to walton creek canyon, and the falls. Sure would be nice to see that area,considering its all national forest. who's with me?

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Krista Monger 4 years ago

I don't know much about the Humble Ranch agreement, but this comment is in response to the previous complaints about tax dollars and easements. (boater1 and housepoor)

I think the many in this conversation are forgetting the definition of a conservation easement. IT DOES NOT INCLUDE PUBLIC ACCESS. Not the one on the Nature Conservancy in Hayden, the May Ranch on the Elk River, the Robinson Ranch and Trull Ranch in the lower Elk River Valley, nor the Fetcher Ranch in Clark. They all have easements paid with public money, but no one can set foot on the property without permission. What does the tax payer get out of it? We gave money for open space, to keep it from being 35 or maybe 5 acre homesites. Does it only have value if you can walk on it? Isn't it enough to view it from a road, to know that it will always exist as it is now?

I am also worried about the implications of this conversation/complaints with future development easements. In exchange for money, the owner gives up the right to develop the land. Routt County agriculture can not exist on real-estate values, to help keep our ranches viable, the tax payers agreed to fund development easement purchases. I doubt ANY RANCHER would willingly go into this agreement if they knew it would also mean all types of trespassers. In fact, you may not know that a large percentage of forest grazing permits go unfilled because cows and bikes don't mix. Keep talking and demanding your bike paths; you will instead find 5 acre homesites.

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greenwash 4 years ago

5 acre homesites are way better than the 35 acre fiasco we have now.LPS with clustered homes work fine as well. We wont see another development permit for years.I wouldnt worry too hard.

Trousils are newcomers not an old ranching family like you mentioned ,who paid a couple hundred dollars per acre or less.We are talking millionaires here, reaping tax benefits for a ficticious Ag operation. .

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Pat Anthony 4 years ago

Is anyone upset our tax dollars were spent on an issue the city could not win. What with all the cuts and shortages and in the midst of it all they appeal. C'mon lets get real re read kmm comment again then you will know what is truyl going on. It is called pet projects, re election and development hogs.

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Jeff Kibler 4 years ago

"You've got the brain of a four-year-old boy, and I'll bet he was glad to get rid of it."

"All good things must come to an end, but I'll be back for your end, later."

Nice quote, George. RIP Groucho and the Marx Brothers.

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Scott Wedel 4 years ago

Why would anyone write such a bad agreement? Pretty bad that the various people in charge failed to read it and failed to ask questions.

And then when it is realized that such a bad agreement is written the City tries to build the cabin on the private property forcing the Trousils take them to court, city loses, city loses appeals and then promises to continue the case. Anyone surprised that the Trousils are not cooperating? When the City spends years trying to force the Trousils to concede their legal rights then you have to expect that they are not going to be cooperative.

When in a bad legal position then you are no longer able to demand what you would like, but are reduced to asking for what is fair. Maybe the current city council could end the hopeless legal fight and ask that these 5 additional trails be open on whatever terms the Trousils think is fair. Might get some public access that way.

I do not deny that the Trousils took money to buy the property. But you cannot expect them to potentially weaken their legal position and allow any use of any of the trails when in the middle of a legal battle with the city. Until the city concedes and just asks the Trousils to do what they know is fair then we do not know whether they will do what is fair.

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jk 4 years ago

kmm, " What does the tax payer get out of it? We gave money for open space, to keep it from being 35 or maybe 5 acre homesites. Does it only have value if you can walk on it? Isn't it enough to view it from a road, to know that it will always exist as it is now? ", Can you please explain this a little further? Please help me understand how my tax dollars, which may have helped to purchase land, do not allow me to access public land through a property??

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Jeff Kibler 4 years ago

Given what happened to the Kirlins in Boulder, I don't blame the Trousils for vigorously defending their property. Most of you likely recall this ...

http://www.denverpost.com/harsanyi/ci_7501264

The Kirlins and McLean et al eventually settled, but it was quite costly.

http://www.denverpost.com/ci_11017146

Apples and oranges? Perhaps. The point is that if the Trousils do not defend their property rights, they could lose them on a legal whim.

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Clearsky 4 years ago

If the sign says no trespassing it means no doing anything except passing through, otherwise it would say "No Passing Through". You see the meaning comes from the French tres which means "more than". People have to get to where they are going. Got to pass through. That is the way of the west. Always been that way. Let's keep it that way. If landowners want to designate pathways that would be best. Afterall that's what sidewalks are-- EASEMENTS!!! Grow up selfish landowners.

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Julie Green 4 years ago

Hey Folks, Let's not confuse the non-profit Humble Ranch Therapeutic Horse Program with this dispute. Cheri Trousil runs a wonderful operation that truly benefits special needs kids and Horizon's clients. She works incredibly hard for the benefit of others and our community can feel good about volunteering and donating to this program. Her program should not be condemned because of this legal dispute.

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Scott Wedel 4 years ago

Contracts are not important when everyone is happy and agreeable because the people will decide what they think is right.

Contracts are important when there is a dispute in which both sides think they are right.

So when writing and reading a contract then you need to be a cynic expecting things to go wrong and then seeing how the contract says things are to be resolved.

So I think our local officials fundamentally failed to do their jobs when they accepted this contract without understanding what happens if things do not go as expected. This would not bother me except that it happens all too often around here.

It is truly stupid to argue that this dispute should affect donating to Humble Ranch. Do you think the Trousils profit from Humble Ranch? Or do you donations go to providing programs for special needs kids? Say the donations boycott is successful and closes Humble Ranch. The Trousils still have their property and our region loses programs for special needs kids. How stupid would that be?

It would make sense to end the lawsuit and talk to the Trousils. If they say that never under any circumstance will the trails be opened because they will never allow that cabin to be built then we can complain about them taking the money under false pretenses. If they say that seasonal access as specified by DOW for hiking and horse trails then we say they did what they claimed was their promise.

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Fred Duckels 4 years ago

We have problems with competency both here and in the Iron Horse financing deal. There is no reason that an iron clad agreement couldn't have been negotiated. The Humble Ranch could have easily changed hands and a handshake intent is worthless. As with the Iron Horse we were awash in good intentions but frittered away millions of taxpayer dollars. I would like to see an investigation and find out why this incompetency is occuring. We need accountability. Meaning well is no excuse and this message needs to be driven home. Finger pointing is a bush league attempt to to cover this disaster up.

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toboyle105 4 years ago

As far as I'm concerned part of the taxes I pay here every year went to this property. As long as they are still holding that money I'm part owner just like any other taxpayer in this town. You can cut that pie anyway you want but that is the heart of it. You asked for public money so the public has its rights.

Where I come from a handshake is as good as any legal document. Its a measure of your family name. It is evident that these people only care about scamming us taxpayers out of our money to own a large tract of land.

It is amazing the talk of affordable housing for those truely in need and these people fleece SBS for a mil under the guise of assisting the handicapped.

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Krista Monger 4 years ago

This comment is NOT about the Humble Ranch in particular, merely all the other conservation easements.

jk - if tax payers want to purchase a piece of land to be used as a park, they need to pay FULL value, and then the city/county, whomever, would own the land and do with it what it pleases.

When a conservation easement is purchased, it is not a purchase of the entire property; it is a fraction of its value. Let's say the rancher is interested in a conservation easement, 2 appraisals will be done, one that is the development value, and another is an appraisal without development opportunities. That difference is the basis for the conservation easement. Most organizations that acquire conservation easements require the owner to donate a portion of the development value (the difference). The PDR board here in Routt County usually requires at least 50% donation from the land owner. For instance, a piece of property is valued at 5 million with development rights and 1 million without. The rancher COULD get up to 2 million for the conservation easement, he would donate the other 2 million worth of value, and lower his land appraisal to 1 million. So he had a piece of property worth 5 million, now has 2 million in cash and 1 million in land. BUT…. 1. He has cash to keep his ranch afloat. 2. He will have huge tax credits. 3. His heirs won't have to sell the land to pay inheritance taxes on the inflated development value.

Also of interest, most of the conservation easements in the Little Snake area have had 60-90% donation from the owner, with a small amount of money given to them, same with some conservation easements in South Routt.

I hope you can see that the tax payer has not bought the property, merely bought up any development rights and mineral rights that can never be used. Meanwhile the rancher has also significantly decreased the value of his land, but has been justly compensated.

So... if you really want a park of your own, cough up the entire 5 million.

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mtroach 4 years ago

Could someone explain these are two different items, 1. a trail easement for public access on the protected part of the Humble's upland undeveloped property, and 2. the conservation easement that protected part of the Humble Ranch's property from development thus deminishing the development value, and tax value.

It was my understanding that public funds($950,000) were used to protect some of the Humble Ranch from development with the understanding that a trail easement would be granted to allow public access through the protected lands of the Humble Ranch to the BLM's public land west of the Humble Ranch.

Am I wrong?? We are discussing two types of easements, only the trail easement is being contested due to a dispute over how the trail easement will be used, Trousil dosn't want bikes, city does, hikers and horses are currently allowed, the only sticking point is making access official and what is being held in court because city officials are demanding bike access and Trousil contends bikes don't belong on his land, easement or not.

Please correct me if I've got things wrong in this post.

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sparkle 4 years ago

Again, George, we thank you for the facts, which are so hard to come by these days!

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