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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Sep 2009

    Trail access and railroad right of way

    Just curious if there is any collective wisdom out there.

    While riding a trail for the first time this spring came upon barbed wire fence cutting access to one side. This is along a Montana Rail Link right of way on the east end of the Kim Williams trail in east Missoula.

    This trail has been in place for a very long time -- likely decades. The trail runs about 2 feet from a fenceline which separates it from a shooting range and is popularly used by bikers, hikers, and homeless people -- by popular, I mean in the realm of several dozen people per day. The trail along the railroad is short -- maybe a mile long. The fencing is only on one end and is the end that most users would arrive at after having already traversed Rail Link ROW.

    It appears that the trail is indeed within the ROW of Montana Rail Link. There is also a way around the ROW section which is about 4 miles long and involves paved roads, tract homes, and the traverse of a golf-course.

    Understanding that Montana Rail may have been within their rights, this seems like a fairly shitty thing to do. Wondering what might be approach avenues to reopen this trail -- or at least make it rideable without having to scale a barbed wire fence, which now appears to be what everyone is doing.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Dec 2004
    Good luck and keep us informed. My experience with MRL have been that they tend to be dicks.
    Specially since the weight is not a giant factor on a motorized bike.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Mar 2006
    Missoula, MT
    Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe that in most states, when something gets used as a right of way long enough, even if it wasn't legally one before, it becomes one. Putting a fence up after a dozen years doesn't change that.
    Ps, I have no idea what the exact spot you are talking about is.
    I do know that there have been some ongoing improvements and access ways in that direction. Could the fence maybe be to keep people out of a soon-to-be construction zone? Spring time erosion control?
    Can you link the the spot on Google maps?

    You might also wanna check out Montana Cadastral (spelling?). It's the public record map of ownership, although it may not show legal easements and such. A call to the county may clear things up. Or just bring something to cut with next time.
    No longer stuck.

    Quote Originally Posted by stuckathuntermtn View Post
    Just an uneducated guess.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Feb 2007
    It's probably worth asking about it nicely at the County, and if that doesn't get you anywhere, to nicely ask the railroad. You're probably SOL though, railroads are very protective of their property and tend not to be easy to work with if they don't want to be. That they put the fence up suggests that they don't want you there.
    "It need not be fun to be fun." - Big Steve

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Dec 2006
    Your Mom's House
    stuck is right that easements can be granted by way of common use, it's called a "Prescriptive Easement." I'm far from an expert on the topic but I looked into it a little bit because there's a USFS trail here in CO that crosses private property and the FS is working on a court order to make the easement official. From my understanding it pretty much requires a court battle if the landowner wants to fight it but it's possible. This site seems to indicate that Montana has provisions for such a thing:
    Quote Originally Posted by Norseman View Post
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  6. #6
    Join Date
    Nov 2007
    Dunno about Montana, but in some states adverse possession and prescriptive easement doctrines do not apply to railroad land (i.e., land owned by RR in fee).

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Feb 2012
    On mt cadastral you cans eee that it's railroad property right to the shooting range.

    I believe mtb missoula has contacted mrl about it but I haven't heard/asked about an update. It was definitely a useful shortcut, I assume that the new underpass to the golf course (which is right before this shortcut trails starts), was part of the reason for the closure.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Nov 2003
    Quote Originally Posted by GeezerSteve View Post
    Dunno about Montana, but in some states adverse possession and prescriptive easement doctrines do not apply to railroad land (i.e., land owned by RR in fee).
    Or the government.

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