During a lively back-and-forth discussion Monday, the Bureau of Land Management, Montezuma County Commission and residents continued to hash out public access to land south of Summit Lake.
Quick solutions have proved elusive, but options exist.
The Tres Rios BLM office is considering putting a parking lot and trailhead where County Road N borders public lands for equestrian and pedestrian use. Although no trails are planned at this time, the area would be for nonmotorized use, and mountain biking would be discouraged.
Area residents have been very vocal about the traffic impact that developed access would have on Roads 35.6, 35.9 and N — narrow, gravel roads that they pay to maintain.
Recent news reports highlighting the situation have prompted increased traffic to the public lands, neighbors said, resulting in trespass issues. The access point, while visible on a map, is fenced and not marked on the ground, apparently causing confusion. The BLM said it is receiving five to 10 calls a week about access to the land, up from two to three calls.
The key issue centers on who should pay for road improvements and maintenance to handle the increased traffic.
The county is urging the BLM to help with the costs of improving about a mile of Road 35.6, the main access road. According to county officials, the BLM said it doesn’t have the estimated $40,000 to $100,000 for road improvements, and would need partners to help raise the funds.
Area residents said governments need to help them with the cost of road upgrades.
“For the few of us who maintain that road, it is quite expensive,” said resident Mike Just. “It is a matter of equity. I don’t think it is fair for us to pay even more to improve the road for horse trailers heading to a trail.”
Resident Don Harwood said he has spent $12,000 in cash, labor and equipment in the past several years to maintain roads, but may not want to contribute if the road becomes heavily used.
Increased land use needs to be monitored closely, said resident Cheryl McMillan. Neighbors worry about illegal dumping and ATV use, break-ins, damage to archaeological sites and fires.
“Will it be patrolled? What about trash bins, bathrooms, campfires. We have serious concerns about wildfires,” McMillan said.
BLM staff said they understood neighbors’ concerns, and pointed out that living next to public lands has benefits and drawbacks.
“Use of public lands changes over time, and it can be challenging living next to them,” said Connie Clementson, field manager for the Tres Rios BLM office. “We don’t foresee heavy use there.”
Approval for an official parking lot and trailhead will require a planning and public comment process, expected to take at least six months. It is part of a wider road and trail plan being developed across the three-county Tres Rios district, said BLM planner Keith Fox, but an expedited parking proposal might speed up the process.
While planning continues, the BLM is considering installing a gate at an existing fence to allow limited nonmotorized access.
“It would be convenient for people in the neighborhood to get to the land, instead of crawling over a fence,” said Clementson, who added that installing the gate is at BLM’s discretion and does not require a formal planning process.
Some residents supported the idea of an interim gate, but others worried that visitors, lacking a parking lot, would park along the narrow road and on private property. It was noted that similar parking arrangements already exist, such at Road 20 and in the Cedar Mesa subdivision.
Responding to residents’ concerns about ATV use, officials noted that power and pipeline companies still would have a right of way for maintenance.
To get baseline information on use, the county is considering putting down a traffic counter on Road 35.6, and the BLM plans to install a trail counter to measure use as well.
Commissioners Keenan Ertel and Larry Don Suckla urged that the parking lot planning and installation be fast-tracked, and that the BLM work with the county on improving the road.
“Please make this one a priority,” Suckla said.
Ertel half-jokingly suggested a faster alternative would be for a private landowner to install a parking lot “and charge a fee to park.”
An earlier debate about general public access along roads to the BLM parcel has been resolved.
The county declared that the public can access red-signed roads in the Summit Lake subdivision. Red-signed roads typically are considered private, but subdivision plat language states that the roads are public.
Green-signed roads are public and typically maintained by the county, depending on use. Changing the Summit Lake subdivision roads to green-signed would give residents access to free gravel for road maintenance.
What led to these BLM lands being cut off from the public?It has to do with the Homesteading Act being applied in the 1920s and earlier, said Marietta Eaton, manager of the BLM’s Canyons of the Ancients National Monument.
Before it became BLM land, it was held under the General Land Office. To encourage settling in the area, much of that GLO land was offered to those who could prove they could make it productive farmland.
“But there was no water, and many homesteaders could not prove it up,” Eaton said. “It led to where we are today with these isolated sections of BLM.”