An island range patterned with checkerboard land ownership, the Crazy Mountains are the backdrop to one of the most “vexing” land-use debates in the state. Crow Indians, the Northern Pacific Railroad, the U.S. Forest Service, ranchers, recreationists and politicians have all claimed ownership in parts of the Crazy Mountains at various times, seeding more than a century of access and land-use disputes that continue today. Between an active lawsuit, two land-swap proposals winding through Forest Service administrative channels, and pending development of some of the largest private properties in the foothills of the Crazies, the future of one of the state’s most iconic and disputed landscapes is playing out now. Today we publish Part II of a three-part series exploring the past, present and future of Montana’s Crazy Mountains.
On a brisk fall day in 2016, Bozeman resident Rob Gregoire received a trespassing ticket while hunting on a trail that’s appeared on maps of the Crazy Mountains for at least 80 years. The Hailstone Ranch, which owns part or all of seven square-mile sections of checkerboard land on the east side of the Crazies, had posted signs saying the Forest Service doesn’t have an easement across its land, so Gregoire knew public access to East Trunk Trail was disputed. But after consulting with Alex Sienkiewicz, the district ranger on that part of Custer Gallatin National Forest, Gregoire was assured he had a right to hike the trail.
As it wound through the grasslands interspersed with pine trees, the trail became faint in places, so Gregoire used an app on his phone to guide him. But when he returned to the trailhead after his outing on Nov. 23, 2016, he found a Sweet Grass County sheriff’s deputy waiting to issue him a $500 ticket, plus court fees. Gregoire decided to fight the citation and raised more than $8,000 to cover his attorney fees. Two months after the ticket was issued, Gregoire told the Billings Gazette, “I guess I’m the test case” to determine whether the Forest Service has a historical easement across sections of private land owned by Hailstone Ranch.
Read more here.