Pictured: Access to Silver Lake Meadow must be obtained through someone’s property. The question is should it be Connie Black’s home, the Nevada St. residents’ road or perhaps both? (Photo: Kirkner)/
Living in the Eastern Sierra and being surrounded by Forest Service public lands means sometimes public access to these lands goes right through your front yard. A situation, homeowners in general don’t seem enjoy, and the reason why the phrase, “Not In My Backyard,” or NIMBY, was coined.
As June Lake struggles to determine how to attract visitors to the Loop this winter, one of the ideas that was part of the plan to keep the community afloat is causing some unrest for some Nevada Street residents.
The idea was to provide and promote more cross-country skiing to help stimulate the economy this winter while June Mountain is closed, and into the future. After some research it was determined that the only feasible opportunity for 2012-13 would be to enhance the Silver Lake Meadow, where cross-country skiing has been taking place for years on an unofficial basis.
According to Connie Black, co-owner of the Double Eagle, Nevada Street has been used for public access to the Forest Service section of the Silver Lake Meadow since 1927.
When ideas regarding the meadow this winter were discussed, talk of Nevada Street was part of the discussion, but at first, Nevada Street residents were not and communication of what was actually going on was misconstrued.
“The problem started a few weeks ago when someone on Nevada Street told someone else that the Double Eagle was planning to put a snowmobile park in the meadow,” said Igor Vorobyoff, a resident of Silver Meadow Lane, which forks off of Nevada Street, and the “keeper of the email list” for the neighborhood who helps get the word out when there’s news to share. “People thought the idea was wrong and that it would be noisy.”
According to Vorobyoff, emails flew back and forth for awhile until Ralph Lockhart, Black’s son and also a co-owner of the Double Eagle, sent an email clarifying that there were no intentions of a snowmobile park, just cross-country skiing. A meeting was then held with the Nevada Street residents who could attend to help clarify the situation further.
This meeting was referenced during the Oct. 2 Mono County Board of Supervisors meeting. However, no one from Nevada Street seemed to be present, or at least no one spoke up as a resident of that street. During that Board meeting, several supervisors expressed concern about the residents of Nevada Street being inconvenienced by extra traffic on their street, which is not paved and is maintained by the homeowners themselves.
Mono County Counsel Marshall Rudolph, however, stated that Nevada Street is not a County road.
“We don’t have control over it, it’s a private road,” Rudolph explained. “It’s not an issue the County would get involved with.”
This week, Mono County Community Development Director Scott Burns further explained that the road is a combination of public and private roads with the public portion belonging to the Forest Service.
But the road could have a prescriptive easement, which is established over time with use of the road.
According to www.accessingthemainecoast.com, a prescriptive easement is “an easement upon another’s real property acquired by continued use without permission of the owner for a period provided by state law to establish the easement. The problems with prescriptive easements are that they do not show up on deeds or title reports, and the exact location and/or use of the easement is not always clear and occasionally moves by practice or erosion.”
Since the road accesses public lands, and the public has been using it for many years, it may be subject to this prescriptive easement. Burns said he would have to do more research to know for sure. However, even if the road was entitled to a prescriptive easement, it still wouldn’t be a County road, it would just further cement the concept that the public has the right to use the road to access the meadow.
“I don’t think anyone knows about the road,” Vorobyoff said. “Basically it’s a no-man’s land. It used to all be the Clark Tract and Bruce Clark owned it. Now it’s abandoned land that no one has any claim to. At this point a court would be the one to decide who owns it.”
The segment under discussion begins when you turn off of Hwy 158 onto Nevada St. and ends once you pass Silver Meadow Lane.
But at least some of the residents on Nevada Street do feel that they have a right to the road, especially since they pay to maintain it and have it plowed in the winter. Plus, the use of the road this past summer by the film crew of Tom Cruise’s movie, “Oblivion,” have left a few of them gun shy about any increases in traffic.
“We were told [at the time of the filming] that the road was a County road so it could be used by the film crews,” said Nevada Street resident Brian Brosgart, who claimed the noise and traffic from the filming made it “the most awful summer” of his life and left the road in disrepair. He was not happy to hear a few weeks ago that the road is actually not County-owned.
Other residents expressed that they just don’t want Nevada Street to be a channel for commercial use. Some felt that Black had made money on “Oblivion” [film crews stayed at the Double Eagle], while the Nevada Street residents were left to tolerate the traffic without any compensation.
Black pointed out that the filming brought in $1.3 million to the County as whole, and added that they worked hard to fix the road once the filming was finished.
“The enhanced cross-country skiing was her idea so she should use her property,” Brosgart said. “The traffic needs to go through her property. She needs to be a good neighbor and leave us alone.”
Brosgart felt that the meeting for Nevada Street residents was not properly noticed and second homeowners were not given enough time to attend.
But Vorobyoff pointed out, “People with second homes generally don’t get in on meetings.”
According to Black, driving traffic to the meadow through her property is the plan.
“There are 31 acres behind my house that I own and which connect to Forest Service land,” Black said. “The area is zoned for cross-country skiing and snowmobiling. We wanted to combine the land for cross-country skiing this year. It would not be a commercial venture because it would be free.”
At the Oct. 2 Board meeting, Lockhart had pointed out that not only could the Double Eagle property be used for parking, but so could Black’s property.
“Equipment renters would be directed to park at the Double Eagle or at Connie’s property,” Lockhart had said a month ago.
Black reiterated this week that the goal was originally to work on the Silver Lake Meadow this year, and then next year look into using a spot by the old Rodeo Grounds, and then maybe the following year increase the cross-country ski area by the June Lake Junction.
“We would eventually have three public access spots to draw people to June Lake for cross-country skiing,” Black explained. “We have no intention of driving traffic down Nevada Street, but we also can’t control who drives down Nevada Street.” She pointed out that the road already has a “No Lakefront Access” sign, so perhaps the residents could put up other no access signs.
Also at the Oct. 2 Board meeting, Black and Lockhart told the Board that the Double Eagle was considering paying for a groomer, as well as the gas and the driver, to help enhance cross-country skiing.
“I haven’t looked at the equipment yet,” Black said this week. She estimates the cost for the package to be around $20,000 … an investment she’s not so sure she wants to make now.
“We have a lot to consider, including the Nevada Street complaints,” she explained. “I don’t want a phone call every time someone parks on Nevada Street. So we’re not sure if we’re going to do it or not.”
She did, however, have Burns out to her property recently to review using it for parking and public access to the meadow.
“We want to encourage parking on our own property,” she explained. Parking would be available between “the big house and the guest house,” Black said. She believed 10-15 cars could park in this area, which she thought would be adequate for the need. Cross-country skiers parking here could then access Silver Lake Meadow directly from Black’s property.
“The County and the Forest Service have been very supportive,” Black noted. It was determined during Burns’ visit that a use permit would be necessary because even though it’s Black’s property, the use would be changing.
“The use permit would be to allow cross-country use over the meadow,” Burns explained. “We need to formally acknowledge this non-commercial use.”
The use permit would also allow the parking on Black’s property. A public hearing for the use permit will go before the Mono County Planning Commission on Thursday, Nov. 8. The meeting begins at 10 a.m. at the Mono County Courthouse in Bridgeport.