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Land dispute resurfaces in Colorado courts

One land dispute in Colorado is going back to court 16 years following a major decision that gave hundreds of residents of Costilla County the right to access a mountain property. In past years, the ancestors of these residents had owned and used the property in common. Now, the issues around this land are headed back to court. The descendants of early Hispanic settlers in the San Luis Valley are sparring with a Texas oil heir who purchased the Cielo Vista Ranch. The ranch includes 83,000 acres of backcountry land encompassing 19 mountains above 13,000 feet in height each.

At one September hearing before the Colorado Court of Appeals, attorneys representing the fourth owner of the ranch since 2004 attempted to argue that the justices should overturn the previous decision granting the heirs of early settlers land access to one mountain for use in gathering timber and grazing livestock. Representatives of the Land Rights Council, which represents the local residents, said that they expected the ongoing appeals from the ranch's owners. Over the past 20 years, the property's owners have repeatedly battled with local residents.

The roots of the property dispute go back to before Colorado was a state. In the 1840s, the original recipient of the Sangre de Cristo land grant offered small parcels to settlers and set aside other areas for common use as grazing and wood-gathering territories. Over time, the title of the land became unclear, but locals continued to assert their rights, especially after a new owner began to eject them in 1960.

This land dispute involves significant numbers of people and a major mountain, but property disputes can also emerge from smaller estates among family and close associates. When an inheritance is in dispute after a loved one's death, a lawyer may be able to help heirs defend their claims and prevent theft.

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