It looks like the Crisman family of Mora, Minn., has finally reached the end of its gravel road.
The Kanabec County Board on Tuesday voted unanimously to deny the family's petition to reopen the yearslong dispute over Hornet Street, the gravel road leading to the Crisman home in Hillman Township some 85 miles north of the Twin Cities.
With their legal and political options exhausted, the family appears to have no public path to recovering the quarter-mile segment of gravel road that's now been declared the property of neighbor Danny Schmoll.
Schmoll has already installed gates on the road leading to the Crisman home, according to the family, and it looks as if the Crismans may be left with no choice other than to build a long driveway at their own expense to access their cattle farm from a different area of the property.
The family called the board's decision "incredibly disappointing."
The board was "set up to be the heroes by simply doing the right thing, but they blew it," the family said in a statement. "It's sad for the Crisman family; it's sad for the Kanabec community, and it's sad for Minnesota."
The Crismans had won the right to keep the road open in a Kanabec County District Court case, but last year the state Court of Appeals overturned the decision. In its ruling, the appellate court said the final portion of the road had not been maintained by the township for more than 25 years and thus, under state law, ceased to legally exist.
The case has been tinged with anti-outsider sentiment among longtime residents of the county. In its decision, the appellate court expressed regret for the way the Crismans, who moved to the area in 2017, have been treated by a township board made up of old-line residents.
"We note our sympathy to the Crismans' argument that the township is displaying gamesmanship by favoring established residents over new residents," the judges wrote.
"We understand, as did the district court, that 'the Crismans, as homeowners and taxpayers, are frustrated that their efforts to be treated like their neighbors when it comes to the maintenance of the road leading to their home have been rebuffed by the [t]ownship.' "
The state Supreme Court declined to hear the family's appeal.
The township will continue minimal maintenance on the lower half of Hornet Street, where nobody lives.
In a last-ditch effort, the family asked the County Board to use its authority under state law to declare Hornet Street "impassable" and order the township to resume maintenance.
But Board Chair Rick Mattson said before the vote that the county attorney and an outside lawyer had advised the board that it had no authority to order Hillman Township to again maintain the road.
"The Court of Appeals ruled that the land in question is no longer a public road," he said. "The Court of Appeals ruling also means that the township has no more authority over [that] piece of ground than any other piece of property.
"The County Board does not have authority to overrule or ignore the Court of Appeals."
In their statement, the Crismans accused the county's attorneys of misinterpreting the appellate court decision and ignoring the fact that township residents resoundingly voted at their 2022 annual meeting to resume maintenance of the road. At the time, Township Board members said they would not abide by the vote.
"That is not something the township should have ignored, but they did, that is why we … went to the County Board," the Crismans said. "The County Board has now also ignored the will of the majority of the Hillman Township's residents.
"There is nothing to gain by denying us access to our own home, but that is what both Hillman Township and now Kanabec County have done to their own people they are supposed to serve."
The resolution adopted by the board declares that it "lacks jurisdiction and authority" to reopen the issue. Mattson added a plea to the Crismans and Schmoll.
"We understand this is a sensitive topic," he said, "and members of this board would like to see the matter resolved between the parties."