DILLON - A fishing guide says long-standing access to a favorite spot on the Beaverhead River is being cut off by a landowner from Seattle. The landowner says he wants an end to trespassing.
Guide Brent Taylor said that for years he has walked the railroad tracks near the Poindexter Slough fishing access to reach fishing holes on the Beaverhead, but this spring, he has been harassed. Barbed wire has been strung, and "no trespassing" signs are plastered on railroad bridges.
"It's a little … tougher to get down to the river," Taylor said. "You pretty much have to rip your waders to get through here."
Seattle businessman Mike Philpott, who recently bought 86 acres in the area, said trespassers have been on his property each time he has visited.
"There were hunting guides from Dillon taking people on guided hunts on my property," Philpott told The Montana Standard in a telephone interview Friday. "Somebody had built a deer stand in one of the trees."
Added Philpott, "Just because you've broken the law for 20 years doesn't make it right."
Railroad tracks bisect Philpott's property, a river bottom wetland that he says he bought for hunting and fishing. Montana regulations state that tracks are private property and may not be used for stream access.
Philpott acknowledges the public has a right to use the Beaverhead River, but he objects to trespassing on railroad property to reach it.
Warden Kerry Wahl of the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks agreed that railroad tracks and bridges cannot legally be used to reach streams. Philpott clearly has a right to keep people off of his land, Wahl said, but keeping people off the tracks rests with Union Pacific, the railroad.
Philpott said that if he sees people slipping down to the river from the tracks, he will continue to inform them they are violating the law. He has contacted Union Pacific to request better marking of the area, and stronger enforcement.
Union Pacific spokesman James Barnes said people don't have a right to walk on railroad property just because the tracks are not marked with signs. Human safety is a concern, Barnes said.
"The risk involved with trespassing on the railroad outweighs activities that people have taken for years," Barnes said. "If people are illegally using the rail line, then we're obligated to go out and investigate."
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