“If I see significant abuse when I go up there I might just stop this mid-stream and shut it all down. We can’t keep assuming the liability risk for other people’s bad behavior.”– John Reiber, Private landowner that owns trails leading to 14ers.
The outdoors are being explored more than ever, especially in the rapidly growing state of Colorado. With the risk of liability growing, a private landowner that owns the area that accesses numerous 14ers is considering cutting off access to hikers altogether. The Colorado Sun reports that the private landowner on the trails to and the summits of Mt. Democrat, and Mt. Lincoln are considering blocking hikers from using the Decilabron Trail, which leads to the aforementioned mountain. This is what the landowners of Mount Bross and Mount Lindsey have already done. John Reiber, who owns the land to Mount Democrat and Lincoln, previously shut off the trails in the Spring of 2021 but reached a temporary agreement with various groups to reopen them. Typical hiking hazards exist, along with long defunct, and dangerous mining shafts and structures that are situated in the mountains.
An interaction between Sarah Barringer, a Colorado Fourteeners Initiative trail builder, and a hiker shows how risky this setup can be:
“Please stay on the trail,” Barringer said.
“Don’t tell me what to do…It’s a free mountain.”
For private landowners, the risk of having hikers on their property is the reversal of the Colorado Recreational Use Statute in 2019 by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. The Colorado Recreational Use Statute protected private landowners from liability if they kept access free of charge. The law gave landowners immunity “unless they act willfully in failing to guard or warn of known dangerous conditions that are likely to cause harm.” This changed with the decision by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals though, which came about when it held the “U.S. Air Force Academy liable for injuries suffered by a cyclist who crashed on a washed out section of paved trail on the campus in Colorado Springs.”
John Reiber, who is the landowner of Mt. Lincoln and Mt. Democrat, said the following about the situation:
“I’ve had enough damage to the doors we try to keep secure on the mines. I’ve had gates cut. I don’t know if I’ve ever been up there without seeing people standing on top of Bross, walking right by the sign that says ‘Private property. No trespassing,’ I definitely have concerns over the willingness of people to not follow the rules. I think from a safety standpoint, I’m not sure there is any way to really make folks stay on the trail. But we’re trying.”
In the meantime, conservationists are aiming to keep the trails safe with rebuilds and repairs, exploring the possibility of a reservation system, educating guests before the hike by updating info on AllTrails and 14ers.com, considering a funding system to buy old mining claims around these trails, and aiming to get new legislation passed to make adjustments to the Colorado Recreational Use Statute, which protects landowners. For now, access to these two peaks to the 14ers may be at risk.