The Bureau of Land Management is considering adding a public parking lot on a contested “high use” road south of Mancos that could lose its maintenance, complicating public access.
A Texas corporation that owns 435 acres along County Road 41 below the “no winter maintenance” sign filed a lawsuit against Montezuma County on Oct. 30 that requested a permanent injunction to prevent the county road department from performing maintenance until a court defines the scope of the county’s easement on the road.
Meanwhile, Connie Clementson, field manager for the BLM Tres Rios Field Office in Dolores, said a public parking lot on Road 41 is in the planning stage as part of a larger Transportation and Access Plan.
“The BLM’s position on public access is that we do not want to remove the ability for the public to get to and enjoy their public lands,” Clementson said.
She said the agency has been analyzing public input and should have a proposed action for the parking lot “real soon.”
“We haven’t yet scoped a proposed action as far as what the BLM is going to propose up there, but that should be forthcoming here in the next few weeks,” Clementson said.
According to a BLM map dated Feb. 20, 2018, there are tentative plans for a public parking lot on a stretch of BLM land that crosses Road 41 and connects the 7,343-acre Menefee Mountain Wilderness Study Area to the east and the 6,300-acre Weber Mountain Wilderness Study Area to the west.
The plaintiff in the lawsuit, PAX 2013 Ltd., a Texas limited partnership, owns four parcels on Road 41. Its parcels border the potential lot’s northern and southern sides.
According to a BLM inventory, Road 41 passes through 1.19 miles of BLM land in a “high-use” public area. Private property also abuts Road 41, and the thousands of acres of wilderness study area surrounds those properties.
“County Road 41 does go through certain portions of BLM land down there, so we do have an interest in public access down that road,” Clementson said.
Clementson said members of the public expressed interest in a parking lot on Road 41 for easier access to public land.
The Montezuma County Road and Bridge Department typically grades Road 41 twice a year, according to court testimony on Jan. 31. The county also installed two culverts on the road in 2018. County employees testified that they have conducted considerably more maintenance after the 2012 Weber Fire, and maintenance needs can change over time.
The pending litigation could temporarily or permanently prohibit the county from performing that maintenance on Road 41.
Clementson said a lack of maintenance on public roads can make public lands harder to access.
“Common sense would render you to believe that if it’s not maintained, that it is going to be more difficult to access it with, say, a passenger vehicle,” Clementson said.
The timeline of the pending litigation and the upcoming parking lot proposal overlap.
Judge Todd Plewe, of the 22nd Judicial District Court, on Jan. 31 gave all parties in the case 14 days to file written closing arguments. On Wednesday, Clementson said the BLM could officially propose the parking lot in “the next few weeks.”
Clementson said it was not certain that the BLM would move forward with the parking lot.
After the agency proposes an action, such as a parking lot, it must go through a 30-day comment period followed by an interdisciplinary review. Then staff would present an environmental analysis with a proposal and some alternatives, followed by another 30-day comment period.
“We certainly recognize the value of having a defined parking area so the public knows where they are at and be respectful of private property,” she said.