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Oprah Winfrey, California Man Battle Over Trail Access Near Telluride

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Jeff Todd By Jeff Todd
CBS4 Reporter
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MOUNTAIN VILLAGE, Colo. (CBS4) – The fight for trail access across a 60-acre piece of land in San Miguel County owned by Oprah Winfrey is getting harsh.

In March, Yellow Brick Road LLC, which is owned by Winfrey, purchased the undeveloped forested land for $10.85 million. About two weeks later a lawsuit was filed by longtime county homeowner Dr. Charles Goodman, who has a home in the Telluride Ski Ranches subdivision. His permanent residence is in California. The Goodman property backs up to the property purchased by Yellow Brick Road.

(photo credit: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

Oprah Winfrey (photo credit: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

“Dr. Goodman can live with Oprah if Oprah can live with us and respect our hiking,” said Robert Korn, the attorney representing Goodman and a self-admitting frequent user of the trails.

The Skunk Creek Trail and the Water Line Trail are the two main trails that cross the 60 acres. They’ve been under a trail easement since the land switched hands from the Forest Service to the Telluride Ski Company 25 years ago, known as the Goodman Agreement.

“An easement is an interest in real property. It’s a right to use that real property,” said Korn.

The Water Line Trail is the most popular, used year-round by residents of Telluride Ski Ranches to access the ski resort and the Town of Mountain Village with its own extensive network of trails.

As part of the Goodman Agreement the trails are private, “In favor of the members of the Telluride Ski Ranches Homeowner’s Association, their guests and invitees, and the association itself,” court documents say. It also makes an “S” shape across potential development sites on the property in question.

“She intended to close down the trails put up fences and gates. So we knew we would no longer have access to our trails,” Korn said.

An attorney for Winfrey denied ever threatening to close the trails.

Both sides admit they haven’t reached out to each other for a compromise, possibly moving the trail to accommodate building a home site while still allowing access to a trail. Instead, several motions have been filed, building the case file up to 1,347 pages.

Some people CBS4 talked with said the lawsuit was premature because no plans for home construction have been submitted to the Town of Mountain Village for approval.

“I think it would be difficult to move these trails,“ Korn said. “This is a very dense forest, it’s not really suitable for development.”

The plot of land in question used to be part of the U.S. Forest Service, but in the late 1980s was swapped with the Telluride Ski Company, which was developing Mountain Village at the time.

“The Forest Service said the trade is conditioned upon a trail easement agreement with Dr. Goodman,” Korn said.

The plot of land changed hands several times before being sold by R. Hoyt and Carol Barnett, who are also named as defendants in the case, along with the Town of Mountain Village, its mayor, Director of Community Development Department and Yellow Brick Road.

There are allegations from both sides on incorrect plats for the site. An attorney for Yellow Brick Road says an older version contained many inaccuracies. Korn says the corrected plat that passed in March, around the time of the sale of the property, eliminated the trail easements and was signed by the Town of Mountain Village mayor without a public hearing.

There is no set date for a trial, and in some cases isn’t necessary with a judge simply handing down a ruling.

Representatives for Oprah Winfrey refrained from commenting on this story, so has the Town of Mountain Village.

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