Forest Service finds resources for Miller Creek
Despite an incident allegedly involving a firearm last fall over disputed land in the Fryingpan Valley, a U.S. Forest Service official said at the time the cash-strapped agency had no money to put toward solutions in the “low-use area.”
Six months later, however, the situation has changed.
Karen Schroyer, district ranger for the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District, who made the comment about the lack of funds in October, told Pitkin County commissioners Tuesday the agency “has invested significant time over the winter” researching the problem.
That data “makes a strong case if we have to go to court that it’s been a public road for decades,” Schroyer said.
In order to be absolutely sure of the research, the Forest Service plans to hire a private contractor to spend two weeks in the area in June surveying the property and determining the exact route of the road, she said. After that, the agency hopes to approach private landowners in the area and obtain “reciprocal agreements” allowing the road to pass through private property, Schroyer said.
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The Forest Service plans to coordinate with the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office to escort the surveyor and make sure the person is safe to conduct the survey, she said.
The situation along Miller Creek Road came to a head last year when Glen Bear, a landowner in the area, reported that someone removed a gate he installed on the road in August. His son, Russell Bear, reported trespassers on their property in September. Both times the men told Pitkin County sheriff’s deputies that unless the situation was remedied, someone would “get shot,” according to police reports.
After the September incident, a sheriff’s deputy told Russell Bear he wouldn’t respond to the trespassing report because the Sheriff’s Office could not determine if Glen Bear or the Forest Service owns Miller Creek Road, according to court documents.
Then in October, Russell Bear allegedly fired a shot from a revolver at a group of five men who told deputies they were removing trees near Glen Bear’s property. Russell Bear was later charged with felony menacing in connection with the incident.
The Bears’ lawyer, John Van Ness, said Thursday his client never fired a shot at anyone. Further, he said the men who were on or near the Bear’s property in October were “vigilantes” who used a front-end loader to destroy a spring the Bears used for water.
“The vigilantes were successful in destroying their water supply,” Van Ness said. “It’s uninhabitable.”
Neither of the two Bears currently live at the Miller Creek property because of the lack of water, he said.
But despite the previous hostilities, the surveyor will face no danger from the Bears in June, Van Ness said.
“They never shot at anybody,” he said. “They never harmed anybody.”
Russell Bear and his father want the situation resolved, Van Ness said.
“If the court tells them they can’t do it, they won’t do it,” he said. “These people are not wild animals. They clearly want this resolved.
“This has been getting out of hand.”
Meanwhile, the felony menacing case against Russell Bear has stalled for the moment because the land-use issues are key, even though they are tangential to the shooting allegations, said Aspen prosecutor Andrea Bryan. She said she’s been in touch with the Forest Service and is happy the agency is now working on the issue.
“Plea negotiations are ongoing,” Bryan said. “But complicated land-use issues have made it a difficult case.”
Schroyer said the Forest Service hopes to have the results of the survey by the end of June.
Alex Burchetta, director of operations for the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office, said there have been no reports of further conflict in the Miller Creek area since felony charges were filed against Russell Bear in October.
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