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14er enthusiasts may face limited access as private owners fight liability

Plan on climbing Mount Democrat or Mount Lincoln? Check out AllTrails, because you might be out of luck if their owner makes them private.

DENVER — For outdoor enthusiasts, climbing Colorado's 14,000-foot mountains, affectionately known as 14ers, is a rite of passage. 

Access to some of those peaks, namely Mount Lincoln and Mount Democrat, could be limited soon due to a longstanding argument between lawmakers and landowners.

John Reiber, the man who owns mining rights on those two 14ers, said he plans to close public access to the peaks.

This came after a Republican-sponsored bill to remove certain language holding landowners liable for risks from a law governing Colorado's recreational space failed.  

Those landowners are in charge of maintaining the land for public access and are potentially liable for injuries to hikers if a judge finds the landowner '"willfully or maliciously" neglected necessary maintenance or failed to post warning signs.

Eight of the state's 58 14ers are at least partially located on private land. According to the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving the state's peaks, those are Mount Democrat, Mount Lincoln, Mount Bross, Mount Sherman, Mount Shavano, Mount Lindsey, Wilson Peak and Culebra Peak, which is located entirely on private land.

The Colorado Fourteeners Initiative says they worry other landowners will follow in Reiber's footsteps.

"And I think it might be a domino effect, where we see other landowners not just on Fourteeners, but access to favorite fishing holes for rivers and water access for kayakers and mountain bikers on trails, we see more closures," Brian Sargeant of the Colorado 14ers Initiative said.

"Removing this 'willful' would basically absolve the landowners of, you know, kind of having to verify or check on a lot of these remote areas at all times," Sargeant said. "So, if we know that people up there after noon are going to be in a higher risk of getting struck by lightning, does that mean that we're willfully allowing them on our land while we know that there's this this risk? Or that there's a risk of avalanche, danger or rockfall, which can happen at any point in time? ...Striking the word willful from the bill kind of helped address some of those issues."

Reiber has shut down access to Mount Lincoln and Mount Democrat before, as recently as in 2021.

He eventually reopened the trails through a partnership with Alma, Colorado, and the Colorado State Forest Service.  

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