A long-fought battle for public access to a road leading into the Jefferson National Forest has made its way to the Smyth County Court House.
In a complaint filed in circuit court last Tuesday, Friends of Glade Mountain have asked a judge to declare a .3-mile section of Glade Mountain Road in Atkins a public roadway.
According to the complaint, the public enjoyed access to the road for several decades, saying that the Virginia Department of Transportation maintained the road from approximately 1930 until at least 2007 and that the U.S. Forest Service also maintained the road for a time.
Then in 2008, the complaint says, the land owner, Kenneth Plummer, insisted that the maintenance and use of the road for access to the national forest cease. According to land records, the property was purchased in 1995.
A “Private Road” sign was then erected, as were “Road Closed” signs and, for a time, a gate closing the road was also installed. The complaint says Plummer also threatened to prosecute anyone who used the road. The complaint further claims that “Over time, Defendant has moved the signs up the road, claiming an even larger portion of Glade Mountain Road as private.”
The group, which is comprised of hikers, hunters, fishermen and other forest users, say that Glade Mountain Road is the only way to access certain portions of the National Forest, Appalachian National Scenic Trail, and the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area by vehicle.
The complaint, filed by the group’s Roanoke-based attorney, Isak Howell, argues that the road meets the standard for evidence of a public highway. According to Virginia Code, any road that has been regularly or periodically maintained by highway officials and continuously used by the public for more than 20 years should be considered a public highway.
Although VDOT and the Forest Service declined to pursue the matter in 2008 because they had no actual deeded right-of-way, the complaint argues that the statute “does not require a deed of conveyance nor require that any public agency formally accept or dedicate the road in order to establish a ‘public highway.’”
Because of the decades of use by the public and maintenance by government agencies, the group argues in the complaint that Plummer “has no right to block the public, deter the public, erect barriers, erect signs, or otherwise claim ownership or dominion of the public way.”
The complaint asks for a judgement declaring the road public, as well as a clear record detailing the public’s right to access in land records.
Once Plummer is served with the summons, he will have 21 days to respond to the complaint.