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County Loses Argument Over Road Closure

In a dispute with the federal government over closure of an old road or trail in the Idaho Panhandle Forest, Shoshone County, Idaho and the New Jersey Mining Company based their legal case on a state right of way law. They lost.

Shoshone County sued the federal government in 2009 arguing that a trail in the mining district called Eagle Creek Road is a public road based on at least five years of public use between 1994 and 1893.

But federal judges hearing the case turned the state law application against Shoshone County. The magistrate judge who heard the arguments held that a brief gold rush to Eagle Creek Camp near Murray Idaho dried up in just a matter of months. As he wrote, " the great stampede to Eagle Creek collapsed upon itself like the banks of snow dissolving into the spring freshet."

Lawyers for the county, however, countered that tenacious old-timers who explored for gold in the area still used the trail, thus making it a public road.

The five-year standard for defining a public road or bridge came from an Idaho Supreme Court decision in 2008. An old federal law governs grants to states for rights of way, but federal courts then look to state law to decide what is - or what is not - a public road.

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