- Associated Press - Monday, September 28, 2015

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - A U.S. Supreme Court ruling favoring a landowner in a property rights case involving the Medicine Bow Rail Trail won’t prevent hikers, bicyclists and horseback riders from using the trail in southeast Wyoming.

A half-mile-long detour around Marvin Brandt’s 83-acre property will remain in place after a federal judge in Wyoming followed up on the high court’s decision with a ruling last week that could be the last chapter of the nine-year legal dispute.

“The trail remains open and the status is the same as it’s been for a couple years,” Medicine Bow National Forest spokesman Aaron Voos said.

The trail has been a popular place to hike, bike, ride horses and ski since it opened 2007.

It follows part of the former route of the Laramie, Hahn’s Peak and Pacific Railroad, which launched in the early 1900s and came to be known as the “Lord Help Push and Pull” or “Late Hard Pressed and Panicky” railroad.

The railroad changed hands several times before the last train ran in the mid-1990s. By 2004, the Wyoming and Colorado Railroad had pulled up the tracks and abandoned its right of way.

The Forest Service relied on the easement to justify the Medicine Bow Rail Trail, and all but one of 31 landowners along the trail gave up any claims. The holdout was Brandt, whose family had acquired the 83 acres in a land swap with the Forest Service in the 1970s.

Brandt sued, and last year the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the railroad easement ceased to exist with the Wyoming and Colorado Railroad’s abandonment. Given back the case, U.S. District Judge Alan Johnson, of Cheyenne, reiterated the high court’s 8-1 ruling.

Brandt didn’t return messages seeking comment.

“We join with Marvin Brandt in celebrating this final remarkable ruling,” William Perry Pendley of the Mountain States Legal Foundation, which represented Brandt, said in a release. “He had the courage to fight back for nine long years.”

Dozens of lawsuits have been working their way through the courts since the Supreme Court ruled in 1990 that people with rails-to-trails projects crossing their properties were entitled to compensation. Estimated total claims range into the hundreds of millions, according to a U.S. Department of Justice Natural Resources Division annual budget report to Congress.

The facts in the Brandt case are too unique to set precedent on any similar scale, said one supporter of private property claims in rails-to-trails cases.

“The case brought to light certain problems with rails to trails and government grant rights of way. But the overall effect of it really - in my estimation, and I’ve been looking at this stuff for 30-some years - isn’t that big of an impact,” said Dick Welsh, president of the National Association of Reversionary Property owners. “I wish it was a big impact. I just don’t see it.”


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