Open letter to a rancher | Accessing landlocked land

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In Arizona and most places in the west, landowners are not obligated to keep the gate open. Private property ownership is among the most potent form of liberty. To secure that liberty, a landowner can close the gate at their own discretion, especially when they encounter problems with the public.

Some folks feel entitled to enter private property, claiming that RS2477 gives them the right. The fact is, easements were never considered in the 1860s. Under RS2477, roads had to avoid land claimed by another person; therefore, no easements were required. There are instances where easements cross private property, particularly lands that are liquidated by the State Trust, provide access to federally owned public lands.

However, In the early days of statehood, easements were not often considered. Some liquidated parcels blocked existing roads. This practice has left some land inaccessible to the public and in the hands of private owners. There are not many landlocked areas in Arizona. Areas that are not accessible are typically blocked by private property or tribal land. A majority of those areas are accessible with a different route and a 4wd vehicle. But when we find private property standing in our way, we should choose to take a route that will build a relationship with the landowner.

Below is a letter that successfully gained me access to a private ranch. I have redacted certain information to keep the landowner private.

Letter to a landowner

To whom it may concern,

Hello, and thank you for taking the time to read my letter. I am a local adventurer here in Arizona. I complete multiday 4×4 adventures across our beautiful state using existing backcountry roads. We camp, hike, and enjoy the most beautiful places in Arizona. We enjoy reliving the history of the great Arizona pioneers who graced this land before us. Our amazing adventures allow us to live self-reliant as we travel the most remote regions of our state. You can see some of our experiences on my website www.AZBackcountryExplorers.com.

Our private adventures consist of a small, tight-knit group of friends. We have highly modified 4WD vehicles and years of experience in the Arizona backcountry. Most of all, we respect the beauty of nature, private property, and your generosity.

My request

Our goal is to explore and complete a route across the XXXX Mountains from north to south.

I’m writing to you today in hopes of gaining permission to use a road that crosses your land. The trail I wish to use starts at XXXX Road and heads in a western direction across the Hassayampa River, and proceeds across XXXX Gulch and XXXX Gulch toward XXXX Spring. I want to access the trust land and BLM land to the south of the ranch. (Please see the included map.)

Our trip will take us from XXXX to XXXX. We will likely choose an area on BLM land south of the ranch for a one-night stay before we make our way towards pavement in Congress, Arizona.

We understand that most of the said land is not accessible or hard to access by the public because of private property. Furthermore, we know this would be an exclusive opportunity, and great respect is given to the beautiful place you call home. We would stay on established roads, and all trash would be hauled out with us. We would utilize existing fire rings (if any) and properly extinguish our campfire. We would camp at least 1/4 mile from wildlife tanks and leave gates as we find them. We will respect and leave in place all historical buildings and artifacts that we may stumble upon. Also, we will wave any and all liability and hold ourselves fully responsible for our actions.

On a further note, I’m not sure if the roads between XXXX and XXXX are passable. If you happen to grant access, any information would be much appreciated. I would also be willing to post No Trespassing signs, repair gates, drop salt lick, or any other tasks along my route.

Please see the included map that shows my desired route. If you have any questions or concerns, please write back or give me a ring at XXX-XXX-XXXX.

Thank you for your consideration,
Sincerely, Kevin Allard

When writing a landowner, you want to keep a few things in mind.

  • Ranchers typically utilize the barter system in the ranching business. Try to offer something in return. A couple hours of labor are always needed on the ranch.
  • Ranchers generally have a huge love for the land; it’s their livelihood. Assure them you will act as if you are a guest in someone’s home
  • Ranching is a delicate system. Assure them you will not disturb their operation.
  • You, recreating on private land, make the landowner liable. Waive that liability, or you will likely be denied.

The type of responses I have gotten is amazing. You would be surprised how generous some landowners are when you reach out to them with a sincere letter. Out of 20 or so times, I have written, I’ve only been turned down a few. These efforts have provided me with exclusive, once in a lifetime opportunities to see some of Arizona’s coolest hidden gems. Unfortunately, I can’t share these locations with you, but I can encourage you to do your due diligence.

By working with private landowners, we can open more recreation opportunities across our state and encourage them to keep the gates open. You can find the name and address of any landowner in Arizona using the proper County Tax Assessors website. It’s all public record.

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