Oops! Natrona County Maintained Rural Road For Years, But Never Owned It

After years of maintaining County Road 505, Natrona County officials sued local landowners when they threatened to block off the road. Turns out, the county doesn't even own the road -- the landowners do. Both sides were in front of a judge Wednesday.

Dale Killingbeck

June 26, 20245 min read

Gravel trucks were using County Road 505 on June 18, 2024, to haul gravel to the BLM project on Muddy Mountain.
Gravel trucks were using County Road 505 on June 18, 2024, to haul gravel to the BLM project on Muddy Mountain. (Dale Killingbeck, Cowboy State Daily)

CASPER — Determining who owns County Road 505 and a frustrated landowner’s threat to block it off landed in a Natrona County courtroom Wednesday.

Natrona County is asking for an injunction to stop the landowner from making good on a threat to block the road to keep people from coming onto and damaging private property.

A two-hour hearing Wednesday morning on the Natrona County Commission petition to legally deal with the threatened closure of County Road 505 brought questions and skepticism from a Natrona County District Court judge.

Woodbury Land and Livestock LLC and owners Walt and Stephanie Woodbury say they’ve been trying to deal with the county to address issues they have with the road and access to their property. But say it wasn’t until they threatened to gate the road to everyone except emergency vehicles last week that their complaints gained any traction.

County Road 505 stretches 13.5 miles from the top of Casper Mountain to State Highway 487, and while it’s called a county road, the Woodburys own it.

Judge Joshua Eames told Natrona County Attorney Heather Duncan-Hunter and deputy attorney Leda Pojman that there’s a “weirdness” to their filing, the stalemate between the parties and how the law may apply.

Duncan-Hunter agreed that the filing is unusual, but the county believes it had no choice after receiving a June 14 letter threatening to block off County Road 505 effective June 19.

Woodbury’s attorney John Masterson argued for dismissal of the county’s motion for a preliminary injunction because the county has no proof it owns the road.

“No one here has been harmed,” he said. “The county has no standing to bring a lawsuit.”

‘Constitutional Issues’

In a court filing late Tuesday responding to the county, Masterson argued that since portions of the road are on his client’s property, the county is seeking an injunction to prevent the Woodburys from using their own land.

“The Woodburys are not aware of any legal authority for the proposition that injunctive relief to take private property can take the place of a required statutory process or eminent domain,” Masterson wrote. “Constitutional issues are also implicated.”

Duncan-Hunter told the judge that the county is “grateful” that the Woodburys have not followed through with the closure threat, but argued the court still needs to act to ensure public safety as well as allow construction projects on top of Casper Mountain and on the road leading to Muddy Mountain to continue on schedule.

Natrona County Road and Bridge Director Mike Haigler testified how the road has long been maintained by the county and its importance as an evacuation route in emergencies.

He also testified about current construction projects that, if impeded, would bring costs to the county for delays, potentially $30,000 a day under one scenario.

Masterson told the court his clients want to work with the county to find a solution. They have proposed putting two gates across the road south of Casper Mountain and the road to Muddy Mountain campgrounds. Access would still be available to both areas via the north side of the mountain.

Codes for the locked gates would be provided to first responders and emergency personnel, as well as to private landowners. In the event of a fire or catastrophe, emergency dispatchers could provide the codes to any caller.

Under questioning by Pojman, Haigler testified that if County Road 505 was blocked, contractors would not be able to use semitrailers to haul material to the construction projects because of the hairpin curves on the north side of the mountain.

A semi hauls gravel up County Road 505 or Circle Drive for the Muddy Mountain.
A semi hauls gravel up County Road 505 or Circle Drive for the Muddy Mountain. (Dale Killingbeck, Cowboy State Daily)

Long Maintained By County

Haigler said the road has been considered a county road as far as he can remember and has been maintained by the county for many years. He testified that the county installed two gates along the road with permission from landowners several years ago that are used to block the road in the winter.

“It’s at the request of the sheriff’s office so they are doing a lot of search and rescues,” he said.

Duncan-Hunter told the judge the county has been digging through records and is “still trying to locate how” County Road 505, also known as Circle Drive came into the system. She also told the court the county earlier this month initiated a process of establishing the road through “prescription” or “adverse possession.”

Under that legal means, a survey and plat would be filed, the county would then publish the notice of the county’s intent to establish the road and set a deadline for any “objections” from those who have an interest in the lands on which the road accesses. A hearing date would then be set to establish the road.

Duncan-Hunter told the judge that she expects the survey to be completed within the next two weeks.

Judge Eames told attorneys he struggled to see how long any preliminary injunction would be in effect.

Masterson told the court his clients continue to see trespassers abuse their properties along the roadway. The Woodburys allege that they are dealing with demolished fences, littering, target shooting, damage to livestock, and loss of grazing for their cattle.

The couple bought the property along the road in September 2023.

No Title Searches

Under questioning from Masterson, Haigler said he was not aware of any county efforts to do title searches of properties prior to this year’s road construction projects on County Road 505 or the Muddy Mountain Road.

“I understand why the county doesn’t want to admit they don’t have rights (to the road),” Masterson said. “They have to follow the established process to get this. No one searched titles, no one knocked on doors.”

Masterson’s Tuesday filing asked the court to deny the county’s motions for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction and award his clients their attorney fees and costs.

He told the judge that his clients just want to solve the issue.

“I think it can be solved,” he said, adding that, “This is not the way to do it.”

Dale Killingbeck can be reached at dale@cowboystatedaily.com.

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Dale Killingbeck


Killingbeck is glad to be back in journalism after working for 18 years in corporate communications with a health system in northern Michigan. He spent the previous 16 years working for newspapers in western Michigan in various roles.