Emma area ranchers settle dispute over cattle trail
June 12, 2014
A dispute that pitted neighbor against neighbor in Emma for nearly five years has been settled by mediation, according to the parties involved.
A trial that involved the Parker and Cerise families, longtime residents of Emma, was scheduled to start this month. It was vacated and the lawsuit will be dismissed, according to terms of the settlement agreement.
"It's been a sad and very expensive thing," Ginny Parker said. "It's finally over with, and I'm pleased with the outcome."
Rory Cerise, whose cattle operation is affected by the settlement, said he didn't like the terms of the deal but felt he had to settle to stop spending money on legal fees.
"We basically gave up everything we had to make it quit," he said.
The lawsuit was filed in 2010 by Emma Farms LLC, which was controlled by Tom Waldeck, who works with Rory and Lucy Cerise on their cattle operation. The feud erupted over Emma Farms' use of a path through the Parkers' Happy Day Ranch and use of a rugged route known at Nancy's Path to drive cattle up and down from high-country grazing pastures.
Waldeck and the Cerises alleged in the lawsuit that they had established a legal right over several decades to use a route through about 300 yards of the Parker property and up the steep Nancy's Path to their federal grazing allotment, administered by the Bureau of Land Management.
Cerise said he typically used motorcycles or all-terrain vehicles on the spring cattle drive up and the fall trip down the Crown. He also used the route periodically for chores related to the cattle — delivering salt blocks and fixing fences.
The Parkers gave the trail to Pitkin County in 2005. It is named in memory of Parker's daughter, Nancy Parker West, who died of breast cancer. A provision of the gift was not to allow motorized uses or dogs. Aspen Valley Land Trust also was given a conservation easement on surrounding property.
The trail is open to the public for hiking and horseback riding. It provides views of the Roaring Fork Valley and climbs to a remote part of the sprawling Crown.
Parker sent Waldeck and the Cerises a letter in May 2010 telling them that they could no longer close the trail to the public unilaterally while moving cattle and that they had to stop using motorized vehicles on the route. Emma Farms responded with a lawsuit. Aspen Valley Land Trust and Pitkin County were named as defendants, along with two limited partnerships controlled by the Parkers.
After three years of legal wrangling, the parties reached a tentative settlement agreement in April 2013 after an Aspen mediator put in numerous hours on a settlement, according to Parker.
The resulting agreement prohibits motorized or mechanized use of Nancy's Path. Emma Farms can still use the path for up to 10 days per year to move cattle, with advance notice to Pitkin County and Aspen Valley Land Trust. The route cannot be used for hunting access, according to a copy of the settlement agreement provided by Parker. She said she signed the agreement about three months ago. Waldeck recently signed on behalf of Emma Farms. Aspen Valley Land Trust signed the deal, and the Pitkin County commissioners signed off Wednesday.
Alternative motorized access was granted by Pitkin County to Emma Farms through Red Rock Ranch, an open space parcel roughly one mile to the west of the disputed route.
Cerise said the alternative route adds significant time to reaching his cattle. He could get up to his grazing allotment in seven minutes via Nancy's Path. It is about 40 minutes through the route on Red Rock Ranch, he said.
Parker said she hopes the settlement allows her family to mend fences with the Cerises. Parker's family bought Happy Day Ranch in 1954. Rory Cerise's parents were their neighbors.
"I feel bad that what has been a good relationship with the Cerises for 55 years — it's not pleasant anymore," Parker said.