Residents, and national and state officials met last week at the Dolores Public Lands Office to discuss proposals for new trails near the Dolores River and McPhee Reservoir.
Trail concepts were laid out on maps as part of a public scoping process in advance of required environmental reviews and detailed project plans.
About a dozen citizens looked over maps and discussed the proposals with biologists, managers and planners with the U.S. Forest Service and Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
Two main trails are being considered. The non-motorized Rio Grande Trail would begin in Rico and follow the Dolores River south to the Montelores Bridge. The motorized Sage Hen route would begin at Road X near McPhee Reservoir and follow an existing road north to the base of McPhee Dam. The 4.5-mile route is currently non-motorized.
Local trail users weighed in with a mix of opinion and comment.
Rico resident Jim Ostrem supported the proposed Rio Grande Trail from Rico because the route along the Dolores River would give town residents convenient access to public land.
“It opens up a lot of hiking routes right from town without having to drive to a trailhead,” he said.
Pending approval and funding, the Rio Grande Trail would include a pedestrian bridge across the river so users could access Scotch Creek. The Montelores Bridge at the end of the trail would connect users to the Ryman Creek Trail.
“I like the bridge to Scotch Creek because it would create shorter hiking options for people and give fishermen access to both sides of the river,” said one resident.
At Sage Hen, the proposal includes one motorized route on an existing road. It has support from motorized groups and the Montezuma County Board of County Commissioners, who proposed the route to the national forest with the idea it could be the beginning of a connector route to the motorized RimRocker Trail, which connects Montrose to Moab.
“Motorized trails are being taken away on the national forest; this would add one back. It is already a historic road,” said commissioner Keenan Ertel.
Motorcycle groups have sued the San Juan National Forest after it ended motorcycle access the Lower Bear Creek, Horse Creek and Burnett trails last year. Motorcyclists prefer single-track motorcycle loops, said one rider, and the user group sees the closure as unfair and unnecessary.
Dale Ward, who described himself as an avid hiker and horseback rider in the Sage Hen area, said he does not support the proposed motorized route.
“Sage Hen is a real peaceful gem right now. It would be a mistake to mess with it,” he said.
As part of the proposal for a motorized route at Sage Hen, the wider Sage Hen area would face a seasonal closure from Dec. 1 to April 30 to protect critical winter range for deer and elk, said Dolores District Ranger Derek Padilla.
During the open period, proposed restrictions on the road would accommodate different users.
From May 1 through Memorial Day, the road would be for non-motorized use only. Motorized users could access it from after Memorial Day to Labor Day. From Labor Day to Nov. 30 the road would be open only to walk-in hunters.
Planning for the Sage Hen motorized route would entail archaeology studies and mitigation in areas along the route that could be impacted, officials said.
The Dolores Ranger District of the San Juan National Forest requests that written comments during this scoping period. The 30-day scoping period ends October 7. Comments may be submitted via the project web page.