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San Juan County, Utah v. United States

ELR Citation: 44 ELR 20097
Nos. 11-4146, -4149, (10th Cir., 04/25/2014)

The Tenth Circuit upheld a lower court decision rejecting the claims of San Juan County and the state of Utah to a public right-of-way, called Salt Creek Road, in Canyonlands National Park. The state and county wish to use their claimed right-of-way to prevent the United States from closing the Salt Creek Road to vehicle traffic. They based their claim on Revised Statute (R.S.) 2477, which reads: “[T]he right of way for the construction of highways over public lands, not reserved for public uses, is hereby granted.” When Congress reserved Canyonlands National Park in 1964, preventing new rights-of-way across these public lands, it made the reservation “subject to valid existing rights." Under Utah law, a highway will be deemed reserved for public use if it has been continuously and uninterruptedly used as a public thoroughfare for a 10-year period. At issue, therefore, was whether the public had accepted an R.S. 2477 right-of-way on Salt Creek Road through “continuous public use for a period of ten years" prior to the reservation of the lands in 1964. The court ruled that the state and county failed to meet this burden. Although they were able to show a variety of historical uses of the road, the evidence was not sufficient to show the road had been in continuous public use as a public thoroughfare throughout a 10-year period prior to the reservation of Canyonlands National Park.