By Kailey Fisicaro

The Bulletin

A road used for decades by hunters, hikers and others to access public lands probably will be closed next month by a private landowner: a member of the Les Schwab family.

With short notice of the closure at Teaters Road about 30 miles southeast of Prineville, local hunting organizations are upset that a main access, for many hunters the preferred one, would no longer be an option by May 15. The road allows through travel from state Highway 380 north to the Ochoco National Forest and offers one of two points of entry to the North Fork Crooked Wild and Scenic River area. Different sections of the area are owned privately, by the U.S. Forest Service or the Bureau of Land Management. Teaters Road is a gravel road on private property that BLM has been provided access to for decades, according to Lisa Clark, BLM spokeswoman.

“We’re definitely going to try to fight this and see what we can do,” Dale Conlee, interim president of the Prineville chapter of the Oregon Hunters Association, said Friday. “It basically snuck up on us.”

Julie Waibel, granddaughter of Les Schwab, is the landowner who sought the closure, according to the BLM and Ochoco National Forest. Her family has owned the Les Schwab Ranch in Post for generations, located along Highway 380, also known as the Paulina Highway. In October 2013, the owner of the ranch was switched from Les Schwab Tire Centers of Oregon Inc. to Waibel Ranches LLC, according to state records.

Waibel approached the BLM about a year ago asking for the closure, but the agency turned her down; the BLM thought closing the road wouldn’t be in the best interest of the public, according to Clark. Then, about a month ago, Waibel’s representatives found that BLM’s right of way to Teaters Road, obtained in 1964, did not cover the entire length of the private road. This allowed Waibel to move forward with the closure on her own, according to Clark, in Prineville.

Waibel could not be reached for comment.

Clark said the BLM would like to see the road remain open and is going to check archives to see whether the record stating BLM is missing 300 to 400 feet of right of way was an inconsistency in paperwork back in the ’60s. The BLM office in Seattle will send the Teaters Road file down to the Prineville District Office, which hopes to find paperwork that shows its right of way extends the entire length of the road.

“We are still continuing to do research on our part, and we’re hoping to see records from archives to see that they show something different,” Clark said Friday, estimating the files will arrive this week.

If the closure takes place, access for visitors to the North Fork Crooked River would only be available from the Ochoco National Forest. To reach the public lands, visitors headed east from Prineville would have to take U.S. Highway 26 toward Big Summit Prairie, then Forest Service Road 4225 south, according to Clark.

Bill Cherry, of Redmond, has owned timberlands near Teaters for about 20 years, he estimates. Cherry said Friday he is still learning what was occurring with the closure and declined to comment further.

“Well, we’re having a meeting soon,” said Cherry.

Other landowners in the area, including James Wood of Aspen Valley Ranch and Kelley Hamilton of Hamilton Ranch LLC, did not return calls for comment.

Gary Lewis, Eastern Oregon representative for the Oregon Hunters Association and a hunting and fishing columnist for The Bulletin, explained the area is popular for hunting deer, elk, antelope, turkeys and ruffed grouse.

“The Ochocos is some of the best elk habitat in the west,” said Lewis. “Elk are a big deal; a person who goes out on an elk hunt will spend between $5,000 and $25,000 to get a trophy elk.”

Gates for the closure would be at north and south entrances to the road: about 1.5 miles north of where Teaters meets Highway 380 at the south entrance and at two spots 5 miles north of where the road splits into a “Y” and meets BLM land, according to Clark.

Local businesses and agencies, including employees of the Nature Conservancy Juniper Hills Preserve, would be able to use Teaters Road for local access, but the closure would affect hunters, campers and other recreational users of the road.

The nature preserve, owned by the nonprofit Nature Conservancy, has employees that live at the headquarters in Post.

“We’re trying to be understanding of both sides,” said Garth Fuller, Eastern Oregon conservation director for the group. “We’re really sympathetic to the people who are concerned about access to public lands, but we also understand the right of the private landowners.”

A Forest Service spokesman also said the agency understands the concerns of both recreational users and landowners.

“We realize that this route has a long history of use and we have had a lot of people coming and asking about it,” said Patrick Lair, spokesman for the Ochoco National Forest and Crooked River National Grassland, adding that the agency also respects the landowners’ rights.

Larry Ulrich, president of the Ochoco Trail Riders, a volunteer off-highway vehicle group, said the closure wouldn’t affect his members because they usually ride in from different routes but that he knows the frustration other recreational users are feeling.

“I think any of us hate to see a road closed,” said Ulrich.

— Reporter: 541-383-0325,

kfisicaro@bendbulletin.com

9684975