6/29/2010--Alpine County--Sometimes the only access to public lands is across private property.
It is a long-settled principle of law that public use of a path over private property for a specified period of time creates a public easement that is permanent and cannot be revoked by subsequent owners. We recently received the following notice from a citizens group in the Sierra Nevada south of Lake Tahoe regarding access issues. If you have information that might help them and are interested in helping out, please get in touch with the people mentioned in the alert. Thanks.
Pleasant Valley is a beautiful meadow south of Lake Tahoe that for well over 100 years had served as a major access point into Alpine County high country, including the Pacific Crest Trail and the Mokelumne Wilderness Area. Access to Pleasant Valley was gated shut by a private landowner in 1999 who no longer
wished to have hikers, anglers, and others cross his land. In the years following the trails' closure, Friends of Hope Valley (FOHV) worked hard to persuade the landowner to voluntarily reopen these trails for public use, but after eight years of working for an amicable resolution this gateway to public lands remains closed. With no other recourse, FOHV has filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California in an effortto reopen the trails.
FOHV is working to find members of the public who accessed the Pleasant Valley trails in the 1950s, '60s and '70s. Potential witnesses will be interviewed by FOHV's legal team, possibly deposed by the defendant's lawyers, and may be asked to testify in court in Sacramento. The deadline to discover witnesses is fast approaching and is essential to building the case for the trail's historic use.
The public's right to access public trails, even if people have to pass through private land to reach them, is firmly grounded in California state law. Any land in California that was used by the public for five continuous years before March 1972 cannot lawfully be closed to public access at the whim of the landowner. There is ample evidence demonstrating lengthy historical use of Pleasant Valley for hiking, fishing, and other recreational uses, including prior use by the Washoe tribe for more than a century.
Securing trail users from the 1950s, '60s, and '70s as witnesses is crucial to asserting the public's legal right to access these pristine trails. Hikers, anglers and others who used Pleasant Valley from 1950-1980 are asked to contact Friends of Hope Valley by emailing email@example.com or to call FOHV's lawyer, Matthew Zinn of Shute, Mihaly and Weinberger LLP, at 415-552-7272 as soon as possible. For more information about the Friends of Hope Valley lawsuit,visit http://www.hopevalleyca.com/issues.html.