Karen McKenzie just wanted to get some prize antlers. Instead she got a trespassing ticket.
For years, McKenzie said, she has hiked along Hartman Draw, north of state Highway 318, hunting for antlers. She always believed the draw was a public right of way.
However, the draw crosses Sombrero Ranch a very short distance from the highway. Until last week, Hartman Draw was identified by a Bureau of Land Management sign. Rob Schmitzer, BLM recreation planner, said the signs gave people the impression Hartman Draw is a public road. The signs were removed last weekend to reduce the confusion.
Schmitzer said he has heard three or four complaints about the closure of the draw. But he stressed that Hartman Draw crosses private land. The draw is not an easement, so the property owner has the right to limit access to the road.
"In the state of Colorado, you have to know where you are. You have to know if you're on public or private land. If you're on private land, then you're trespassing," Undersheriff Jerry Hoberg said.
State law does not require landowners to post their property, Hoberg said. Nor can those crossing private property rely on landowner permission from a previous year. To be safe, people should request permission each time they cross private land.
Even if someone unwittingly crosses from public land to private, they can still be cited for trespassing, a misdemeanor that can carry a $750 fine.
Hoberg said he didn't know if anyone else had been ticketed in the area.
Antler hunting on private land has become a problem in the western part of the county, Hoberg said. On March 6 and 13, officers patrolled parcels of private property, with the permission of the property owners, to ticket trespassers.
Hartman Draw leads to roads that extend into the Sand Wash Basin area, and its closure creates access problems for trying to get to BLM land. There's no fast solution to the problem, Schmitzer said.
"There's not a quick fix. But as recreation planner, I want to address this and move forward," he said.
Before moving forward, Schmitzer said BLM personnel would need to determine what amount of road access they want to provide in the area.
They'll approach landowners about granting an easement, but the requests are usually denied. Land trades are another option, as is rerouting the road over public land.
Rob Gebhart can be reached at 824-7031 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.