Wildlife issues, a funding shortage and additional archaeology studies have stalled the public review process for the proposed Phil’s World trail expansion.
The Bureau of land Management is considering a proposal by the Southwest Colorado Cycling Club that would add 25-30 miles of trails and two parking lots to the popular biking area east of Cortez.
A draft environmental assessment of the proposal – expected by April – has been delayed, said BLM recreation specialist Jeff Christenson.
“We are short on staff needed for archaeology surveys, and we are still conducting boundary studies to ensure trails don’t cross private property,” he said.
The draft assessment will have several options, including one preferred by the BLM. A comment period before BLM’s decision is planned.
A golden eagle’s nest discovered by BLM biologists required that four miles of trails be cut to give the nest a wide berth. Colorado Parks and Wildlife also is conducting a study to determine potential impacts of the new trails on deer populations.
BLM officials said an additional $15,000 is needed to conduct archeology surveys on 60 acres of the proposed Tiny Donkey trail, southeast of the Stinking Springs loop trial.
If the survey gets done and the trail avoids cultural impacts, it will be included in the environmental assessment. Otherwise, it may have to be dropped from the proposal, BLM officials said.
Nonetheless, the local bike community is optimistic about the Phil’s World expansion, said Scott Darling, co-owner of Kokopelli Bike and Board in Cortez.
“We want to do it responsibly, and the process takes time,” he said. “It will be something that Cortez will be proud of.”
The majority of the proposed trails run north into Cash Canyon and Simon Draw. Darling said the expansion will ease pressure on the current trail system, and provide more challenging trails. But easier loops are incorporated as well.
“There are some bigger canyons to cross, and the focus is on more advanced riding,” he said. “The flowing terrain really suits mountain biking. At Cash Canyon, there’s a three-mile downhill.”
The plan includes to new parking lots, one off County Road L and one off County Road M.
Some of the trails’ neighbors have expressed concerns.
Bill Eggers said he fears road traffic would increase, and wildlife would be harmed. He said the proposed trails would be laid over existing wildlife trails, disturbing wintering grounds for mule deer.
“I used to count up to 200 head of mule deer,” he explained. “Today, I’m lucky to see 30. I want to protect them and keep them around.”
Seasonal closures may be part of the new regulations to protect winter-deer habitat.