The Gallatin County Commission has denied nearby landowners’ request to make Rocking S7 Road private, saying the change would limit public access and violate county regulations.

Landowners requested the road 9 miles north of Belgrade off Dry Creek Road be made private to protect their livestock, preserve their property values and prevent trespassing, littering and theft.

In recent years, landowners installed an unlocked gate on the road to protect their livestock and property, said Stephen Carlson, who owns property along Rocking S7 Road. County officials left the gate opened at times and eventually took it down. Issues related to the road, including this one, have led to lawsuits, he said.

“It’s been this escalation of unacceptable behavior that brings us here today,” he told commissioners at a meeting this week.

State law says counties cannot abandon roads unless other places provide substantially the same access to public land and water. Rocking S7 Road reaches a section of Dry Creek, which can also be accessed from a bridge 0.5 miles north and another bridge one mile south of the road.

The Public Land/Water Access Association wrote to commissioners that the road must remain public to maintain access to the section of Dry Creek.

However, Patrick Byorth with Trout Unlimited said public access isn’t a major issue for Rocking S7 Road.

“It appears that stream access has assumed a disproportionate weight in your decision-making process, which may be unwarranted due to the limited sport fishing value in the reach,” he wrote in a letter to commissioners.

In response to the letter, Commissioner Don Seifert said public access to Dry Creek is not just for fishing. He added that restoration projects in the area might make fishing viable in the future.

County subdivision regulations state that subdivision roads must be public and that to become private, landowners have to amend their plat and go through a county review process for approval of the changes. Based on the regulations, commissioners said they cannot make Rocking S7 Road private based on landowners’ request.

“This is an attempt to have a gated community and our county has had an aversion to that,” Commissioner Joe Skinner said. “We put it in our regulations that we do not want gated communities in our county. … It could be the same thing as Spanish Peaks up in Big Sky if we allow this.”

Commissioner Scott MacFarlane said making a road private because landowners want to protect their property values and prevent issues like trespassing sets a bad precedent for the county.

The landowners’ lawyer, Art Wittich, said Rocking S7 is a cul-de-sac, so it doesn’t make sense for it to be public. He also said public access to Dry Creek isn’t an issue because there are two nearby access points. He requested the commissioners take time to collect information about and understand the issues related to the road.

The commissioners didn’t heed his request, unanimously voting to keep the road public.

Perrin Stein can be reached at 406-582-2648 or at pstein@dailychronicle.com. Follow her on Twitter @PerrinStein.

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