January 14, 2005

Woman giving up in battle over Mojave land

LEAVING: A long eviction fight with federal authorities is nearing an end for Connie Connelly.

By MICHAEL FISHER / The Press-Enterprise (Riverside, CA)

After decades of living in the windswept Mojave National Preserve, Connie Connelly is resigned to leaving her rustic home for land in remote Wyoming that the National Park Service is buying for her.

"I plan on moving on as quick as possible," said Connelly, 44, who has spent years battling federal authorities' efforts to evict her from the venerable general store her family turned into a homestead in 1966. The house sits on 5 brushy acres near the California state line, about 23 miles from Primm, Nev.

Connelly, who pleaded ont guilty in August to a charge of trespassing on federal land, was due in federal court Friday but that hearing was postponed.

If convicted, she faces up to six months in jail and a $5,000 fine. Prosecutors have said they will take Connelly's move into consideration as they decide whether to pursue the case.

Faced with possible jail time and a fine she cannot afford, Connelly said she ultimately had no choice but to agree to move. But she would prefer to stay in the six-room home she shares with 11 dogs, a cat.

"I am still praying for a miracle," Connelly said. "I just feel sick.

National Park Service officials declined comment Thursday, citing the pending case.

Under a deal with Connelly, the Park Service is paying $65,000, plus $3,000 in moving expenses, toward relocating Connelly to a double-wide mobile home on 3 acres near Lovell, Wy., about 145 miles east of Yellowstone National Park.

Escrow is expected to close Jan. 21, after which Connelly will own the home and land.

Connelly has seen photos of the tree-spotted land in Wyoming, which sits less than two miles outside the 2,200-resident town.

"I was hoping to get a place way, way out in the tulies, and this is pretty close to a neighbor," Connelly said. "It's kind of crowded."

Connelly says that her father purchased their Ivanpah house, a former mining company general store, when her family moved from Hemet in the 1960s. Parks officials say the family leased, but never owned the land, a contention Connelly disputes.

The property sits within the 1.6-million-acre Mojave National Preserve, which was created in 1994.

Connelly's father died in 1990 and her mother, Pauline, died two years ago. Authorities argue that Connelly's name is not on the lease, and she is not entitled to live on the land.

The home is surrounded by a corral and a jumble of scrap lumber, rotting furniture and deteriorating travel trailers. A railroad track runs just a few house. "I'll keep listening for that train."