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State Supreme Court denies city of Steamboat Springs’ request

Humble Ranch ruling stands, brings end to part of lengthy litigation process

Steamboat Springs — The Colorado Supreme Court on Monday denied the city of Steamboat Springs’ request that it review a ruling involving public access on Humble Ranch. — The Colorado Supreme Court on Monday denied the city of Steamboat Springs' request that it review a ruling involving public access on Humble Ranch.

— The Colorado Supreme Court on Monday denied the city of Steamboat Springs' request that it review a ruling involving public access on Humble Ranch.

The decision ends one aspect of a lengthy litigation process. The costly legal proceedings began in July 2007, when Humble Ventures LLC took the city to district court to contest the city's ability to build a public cabin — and by extension, open certain trail segments to the public — on private property at Humble Ranch, which lies off Routt County Road 14 south of Steamboat Springs.

In January 2009, the court ruled that Humble Ranch was not obligated to build the cabin within any certain timeframe, nor could the city build it, which by extension means Humble Ranch is not required to open the trail segments for public use. Opening the trail segments is contingent on construction of the cabin, according to purchase contract documents.

The closed trails provide access to the south side of Emerald Mountain and the Cow Creek area, through Humble Ranch.

Humble Ranch owner Ed Trousil has said the trails' closure is to protect wildlife habitat — the state Division of Wildlife closes the Emerald Mountain State Wildlife Area at the top of the Agate Creek Trail from Dec. 1 to June 30 because of elk concerns — and to prevent impacts on the Humble Ranch Education & Therapy Center.

On March 11, the Colorado Court of Appeals upheld the district court decision. Three judges concurred on the agreement.

The city, through the Denver law firm Hall & Evans, filed its petition for review by the state Supreme Court in May.

Former Hall & Evans associate attorney Devi Yorty has said that the state Supreme Court accepts less than 10 percent of the cases for which it receives petitions.

On Monday, Trousil said in a brief e-mail that he was pleased with the Colorado Supreme Court's ruling.

The litigation has cost the city more than $100,000 in a time of budget cuts. City attorney Tony Lettunich defended that cost Monday.

"The Trousils filed the suit against the city, and we're pretty much obligated to defend the public's interest, so we had to take the case," he said. "We got an answer and that's it."

Almost it, that is.

Still pending is the city's petition for a rehearing of another March 11 ruling about whether the city must close its Humble Ranch trail easements to the public when the state Division of Wildlife closes access to the Emerald Mountain wildlife area. The appeals court ruled that the city has to follow state DOW closures, reversing an earlier district court ruling, but it remanded the issue for further proceedings.

Lettunich said Monday there's no definite timeline for when that case might return to district court.

Those calling for more public access on Humble Ranch say building the cabin and opening trails to the public were key components of correlated efforts a decade ago by the Yampa River System Legacy Project and the Emerald Mountain Partnership.

Ed and Cheri Trousil purchased the Humble Ranch property in May 1999. Former Steamboat Springs City Council President Kevin Bennett said in March that the Legacy Project gave the Trousils $950,000, among other considerations, to help them close on the purchase.

Trousil has said from the start that his position does not legally contradict that collaboration.

"We have litigated this case for 2 1/2 years," Ed Trousil wrote in an April e-mail. "During the litigation, the city had every opportunity to produce any evidence it had concerning the use of the Humble Ranch property. Not once did the city produce any evidence that we broke any promises about the use of Humble Ranch."

The Agate Creek Trail, for hikers only and accessed with city easements via a mile walk up the private Elk Lane, is the sole public access remaining from efforts once heralded as a crowning jewel of the Legacy Project. Lettunich said Monday's Supreme Court denial ends the hopes of mountain bikers seeking to use trails through the property.

— To reach Mike Lawrence, call 871-4233 or e-mail mlawrence@steamboatpilot.com