HOT SPRINGS, S.D. (CN) - South Dakota barred ranchers from driving across a scenic rail trail on their own land, crippling their operations and subjecting them to criminal charges, five ranchers claim in court.
Dorothy Ellen Trevarton et al. sued South Dakota and its Department of Game, Fish and Parks, in Fall River County Court.
The lawsuit centers on the George S. Mickelson Trail, a 109-mile rail-to-trail route from Deadwood to Edgemont, in the state's southwest corner.
The rail lines were once used by the Grand Island and Wyoming Central Railroad Company and its successor, Chicago Burlington and Quincy Railroad Company.
Burlington donated its interest in railroad right-of-way to South Dakota, which converted the rails to the crushed-stone trail in 1998.
Much of the converted railbed passes through National Forest in the heart of the Black Hills; portions of it cross private land.
Before the trail was built, plaintiffs and their predecessors used the right-of-way to haul cattle and feed, and travel through their ranches, the complaint states.
But the State of South Dakota has informed the plaintiffs that they may not operate motor vehicles on the Mickelson Trail, for ranching operations or other purposes, subject to criminal penalties.
Plaintiff Bruce Murdock and a ranch hand were prosecuted and convicted of using the trail for ranching operations, the complaint states, without elucidating what they did or what their penalty was.
"Grand Island and Burlington Railroads at best possessed a mere right-of-way easement for railroad use across the Murdocks and Trevarton properties," the complaint states.
"When Burlington Railroads ceased using its easement for railroad use across the Murdocks and Trevarton properties, by operation of laws said easement terminated an[y] and all title and interest in the easement reverted to the owners of the Murdocks and Trevarton properties. Burlington Railroads accordingly had no interest in its right-of-way to donate or otherwise transfer to the State of South Dakota.
"Based on said reversion the State of South Dakota, the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks, and the public are illegally using and possessing the Murdocks' and Trevarton's property."
George Mickelson, a two-term governor who spearheaded the trail in a successful 1986 campaign, died in a plane crash in 1993.
Fall River County, pop. 7,094, is 240 miles from state capital Pierre.
The plaintiffs seek declaration judgment and quiet title.
They are represented by Jess Pekarski with Costello, Porter, Hill, Heisterkamp, Bushnell and Carpenter, of Rapid City.