San Juan County had argued that the road had been used for decades and claimed ownership of the road right-of-way under RS2477 rules.
“This is devastating,” said San Juan County Commissioner Bruce Adams. “I fear that the federal government will take steps to close Arch Canyon next and then eventually close access to every road west of Highway 191 and north of Highway 95.”
San Juan County filed the lawsuit in 2004 with the approval (and financial backing) of the State of Utah.
The case crawled through the federal system over the subsequent years.
The 1998 road closure eliminated access to Angel Arch to all but the most fit hikers. It is more than 20 miles to hike from the trailhead to Angel Arch and back.
Judge Jenkins ruled that the road through Salt Creek Canyon, which at one time extended all the way to Kirks Cabin in upper Salt Creek, is a by-way and not a highway.
Area residents are concerned the beauties of Salt Creek Canyon, including Angel Arch, are all but unreachable to the vast majority of people.
The ruling also requires San Juan County and the State of Utah to pay all of the legal costs associated with the lawsuit, which has been in the court system for seven years.