Officials with the San Juan National Forest, Bureau of Reclamation, Montezuma County Recreation Committee, and Colorado Parks and Wildlife on Thursday discussed a proposal to allow motorized use on a road though the Sage Hen area.
The Montezuma County Board of Commissioners proposed designating a 4.7-mile motorized route on a historic road through Sage Hen to connect to Forest Road 504 at the base of McPhee Dam.
Proponents hope to provide a motorized spur using existing roads and trails to the Rimrocker trail, an all-terrain vehicle and motorcycle route that connects Montrose and Moab. Dolores and San Miguel counties are considering where their portion of the route might be located.
Motorized use on the road is proposed for seasonal use from May or June to August or September. Currently, the Sage Hen recreation area of the National Forest that the road crosses is closed to public motorized use.
Officials said the proposed change would face a public comment process and environmental reviews – including archaeological, wildlife and social impacts – before a decision was made.
Dolores District Ranger Derek Padilla said that in 2008, Sage Hen trails and roads were closed to motorized use and camping by the National Forest because of littering, vandalism, illegal off-trail motorized use, and damage to archaeological resources. Public hours were shortened to dawn to dusk every day.
Vehicles can access Sage Hen via County Road X. Trailheads and parking spaces along the road are available for hiking, biking, shore fishing and horseback riding.
Hunting and wildlife concernsParks and Wildlife officials said the Sage Hen area is a key habitat area for deer and elk. The south-facing region is especially important for spring foraging because it is the first to dry out. It also is a migration corridor.
“The Sage Hen area is very important for walk-in hunters,” said Dave Harper, CPW District Wildlife manager for Dolores.
To protect deer and elk populations, the Sage Hen area may be considered for seasonal closures to the public, similar to the closure of the new McPhee Overlook Trail on the mesa above McPhee.
Archaeology studies neededPotential impacts to archaeological sites near the proposed motorized route also would need to be analyzed, said Liz Cutright-Smith, archaeologist for the Dolores Ranger District.
She said consultation would be sought with Native American tribes with ancestral ties to the area. Archaeological surveys would be needed along the proposed motorized route. Preventing recreation travel off the road may involve fencing and other barriers, officials said.
Road statusThe existing unimproved dirt road travels north-south for 4.4 miles between Road X and Forest Road 504 at the base of McPhee Dam. After a gradual climb north from Road X, the road drops into the Dolores Canyon and includes steep switchbacks before reaching Road 504, a gravel public road that continues west toward Bradfield Bridge and a network of National Forest and county roads. The road through Sage Hen is open to hikers, cyclists and horse riders.
The route has administrative-use status with the National Forest, Bureau of Reclamation and wildlife agencies, and a portion of it is aligned with the historic McPhee stock driveway. Motorized access is allowed only for government agencies for maintenance and management purposes.
For example, the Bureau of Reclamation uses the route to access the dam and power plant infrastructure because it is shorter and more direct than driving around to Bradfield Bridge and up Road 504.
The road also parallels federal transmission lines and is used by maintenance workers with Western Area Power Administration, a division of the U.S. Department of Energy.
Montezuma County officials said the purpose of the proposed project is to increase regional multiple-use recreational opportunities.
“The concept is to capture the adventure tourism market,” said James Dietrich, federal public lands coordinator for the county. “It is intended to be the first leg connecting our area with a broader regional trail system.”
He said no new trails are proposed, and the plan is to use existing routes with way-finding signs directing users. County officials expect the spur will create a demand for local supplies and services for trail users.
The next step is for the National Forest to release a public scoping notice on the proposal to gather public comment.