Public Access Road Dispute Resolved in Central Oregon
43,000 acres will remain open and reachable
Crawling with more than 4,000 elk, the Ochoco Mountains offer one of best spots for hunters to find a bull on public land in central Oregon.
Those hunters have long depended on Teaters Road to access the Ochoco National Forest, as well as BLM lands and the North Fork Crooked Wild and Scenic River. So too have generations of anglers and other public land users.
Launching from Oregon Route 380 east of Prineville, Teaters follows the path of an 1800s-era wagon trail, on which the BLM established a right-of-way in 1964 to provide public access to 43,000 acres of federal land beyond.
This route has only in grown popularity through the decades, and has tested the patience of the Waibel Ranches, LLC, who own and graze cattle on the private land the road crosses. They’ve had poaching, trespassing and other illegal activities because of the public road, and they eventually hired an attorney to investigate the right-of-way. That examination found a small section of the road that strayed from the original route, which the landowners believed provided just cause to close Teaters Road in spring 2015. BLM disagreed, and a public battle ensued.
Knowing how important this route is for hunters and other land users, RMEF joined with Oregon Hunters Association to serve as liaisons in the dispute, and worked hard to keep the conversation civil and productive. The Elk Foundation also provided title work and research that showed continuous public use of the road since the late 1800s.
That effort bore fruit last fall after Waibel Ranches agreed to build an alternate route to the traditional access points at a cost of more than $1 million of their own money. That new road is now open to the public, and Waibel Ranches plans to soon donate it to Crook County. They also pledged to maintain it for up to two years until BLM acquires a public right-of-way from Crook County. Then the county will take over its upkeep as a local access road.
“It was truly a tightrope at times to see this to the other side, but it was worth it,” says Bill Richardson, RMEF senior lands program manager. “This road is vital to accessing a massive block of public elk country in one of the most popular hunting units in the state. I was on speed dial with Crook County Court and BLM district managers for three years to make sure the boat stayed upright and on a path toward a resolution.”
Blake Henning, RMEF chief conservation officer, agrees.
“We are pleased that all parties could come together to uphold this access to a key piece of Oregon revered by elk hunters and others. Opening or improving access to our public lands lies at the core of RMEF’s conservation mission. We hear again and again from our members how important it is that we carry out this public access work.”