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Two of Colorado’s Most Popular Trails Are Closing to the Public Forever, Thanks to This Private Landowner

Colorado may be the land of alpine lakes, Coors Light, and more Toyota Tacomas than you can shake a hiking pole at, but that’s not all. It’s also home to more than 15 mountain ranges, where 58 peaks soar above 14,000 feet, earning them a cult following and the nickname of “Fourteeners.” For decades, these mountains have been beloved by locals and a huge draw for out-of-state visitors, many of whom make it a life goal to summit all 58. But now, two of them could be shut off from hikers forever.  

Mount Democrat and Mount Lincoln, both extremely popular Fourteeners near Leadville, Colorado, actually sit on private land. Now, the private landowner, John Reiber, has vowed to close trail access for the forseeeable future. This move has sparked concerns among outdoor enthusiasts about the future of recreation—not just in Colorado, but across the U.S. It sets a dangerous precedent. The fear is that other private landowners may follow suit, ending access to many of the nation’s most beloved trails.

Mount Lincoln. Image by stockphoto52/Getty

Like many states, Colorado’s outdoor recreation terrain is characterized by a diverse mix of public and private ownerships. Historically, landowners in Colorado were granted broad protections from liability for accidents suffered by hikers or bikers on their property. However, the landscape has shifted in recent months. Recently James Nelson, a cyclist who suffered severe injuries when he rode into a sinkhole on a path on U.S. Air Force Academy property, brought a civil case against the government. The court found the government liable for Nelson’s injuries. This undid previous protections, and it awarded Nelson more than $7.3 million in damages

In the wake of Nelson v. United States, Colorado State Senator Mark Baisley sponsored a bill called SB23-103 as a means of protecting landowners from such lawsuits. However, it failed to pass, leaving individuals such as Reiber vulnerable to liability in the event of accidents. 

“I can no longer take on the level of risk in case someone gets hurt and wants to sue me,” Reiber told the told the Colorado Sun. So, he’s closing down the peaks to public access as a way to protect himself.

The closure of Mount Democrat and Mount Lincoln raises important questions about the future of public and private ownership in Colorado’s mountains. Finding a way to balance the interests of landowners and recreationists will be crucial. The loss of merely two beloved peaks is already a significant blow to Colorado’s outdoor community and economy. The Colorado Fourteeners Initiative (CFI) estimates that hikers traveling through Alma generated roughly $5 million in revenue. From hikers to business owners, everyone may pay for this loss. 

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  1. Unfortunate situation, but I’m with the landowner. Not worth the risk in our lawyer ridden litigious society and more lawyer ridden legislatures. We have the same issues here in the Northwoods with ATV and Snowmobilers.

  2. Horrible article title, author is clearly biased by implying the land owner is at fault for protecting himself from frivolous law suits. What an insidious and lazy attempt to smear the land owner instead of the liberal decision to deny him legal protections. What a lazy reporter.

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