Billionaire Stan Kroenke Wins Legal Battle, Killing Public Access to Stoney and Minnie Lake

Residents of British Columbia recently lost access to prime fishing spots Stoney Lake and Minnie Lake to non-resident sports mogul Stan Kroenke. Kroenke is the husband to Walmart heiress, Anne Walton, owner of the LA Rams, Colorado Avalanche and Denver Nuggets, who currently owns more than two million acres of land, is also part owner of the on-demand outdoor streaming service, MyOutdoorTV.

Though the loss of access is recent, this legal battle has been in court for almost two decades, with the battlefront being the 2+ million-acre Kroenke owned Douglas Lake Ranch on which the lakes reside. While Kroenke’s legal army is what you’d expect from a billionaire, the side fighting for the public’s access isn’t the province, but rather the local Nicola Valley Fish & Game Club. Unfortunately, the consensus of late is not only that the province failed to protect its citizens’ rights, but rather it’s been speculated that the local authorities and government have been colluding with the billionaire. And the ruling, which keeps the Crown’s ownership of the lakes yet removes access to it, further increases that speculation.

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Residents haven’t been without their victories, though, with an initial ruling back in 2018 in their favour. Canadian law stipulates that access to Crown owned public lakes on private property may be given to the public through preexisting public trails or roads. Residents have been legally accessing the lakes using old wagon roads established in the 1800s, but the ranch began illegally blocking these roads through a variety of means and built new ones directing people away from the lakes, which is what led the Fish & Game Club to initially take him to court. Kroenke appealed the decision, which led to the new ruling, where the judge found the newer roads did not actually meet the lakes’ boundaries.

While the battle is far from over, and there is an opportunity to appeal this most recent verdict to a higher court, the Nicola Valley Club was dealt another significant blow in that the ruling also requires them to cover Kroenke’s legal expenses, estimated to be in the $25,000 – $30,000 range. For an organization whose primary source of fundraising are bake sales, donations, raffles and auctions, you can imagine this being a substantial hurdle, and that’s not even taking into account their own legal fees if they are to appeal this most recent ruling. This not only puts the future of this case in jeopardy, it has created a financial crisis for the club itself. The only way the club can combat these expenses is to go outside of their standard means of fundraising and reach to a greater audience through an online fundraising campaign.

Unfortunately, this is not the first time one of Kroenke’s ranches was a source for controversy. In 2016, instead of land access, Kroenke evicted residents out of house and home from his newly purchased ranch near Wichita Falls, Texas. With less than four months’ notice, hundreds of elderly and fixed income families were forced out, some of which had leases dating back 50 years. It appears as though there are no lengths to which he won’t go to keep these wild and wonderful places to himself.

The fact that an owner of MyOutdoorTV is keeping outdoors enthusiasts from recreating is such a backwards concept. It goes against the entire ethos of the outdoors community, but it’s unfortunately the state of affairs. If you’re currently subscribed to the service, perhaps you should consider reallocating that monthly fee and donating to the Nicola Valley Fish & Game Club, for the people of British Columbia, the Nicola Valley Fish & Game Club, the previous inhabitants of his Texas ranch, and outdoors recreators everywhere.

Viktor Arzethauser

I occupy a weird space by identifying as an outdoorsman, yet living in a concrete jungle of Toronto. I rarely, if ever, meet like-minded individuals in the city, so I truly appreciate the times when I do, and I savor the stories, ideas and knowledge that we share.

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