Montezuma County and the Bureau of Land Management continue to take steps toward opening public access to 2,800 acres of BLM lands south of Summit Lake.
The county recently approved extending County Road N by 900 feet to the west from its intersection with County Road 35.6 to provide a legal access point. The BLM land is hemmed in by private land.
The extension of Road N is along a section line and a non-exclusive subdivision easement that abuts the BLM boundary, county and BLM officials said.
“We have been seeking access to public lands there, and with this easement we finally found a way to do it,” said commissioner Keenan Ertel. “Access to public lands are off county roads, and we work with the BLM to provide that.”
The Tres Rios office of the BLM proposes a small parking lot that will be accessed off the new section of Road N on the south side.
It has conducted an environmental assessment, and a decision on the parking lot proposal is pending, said BLM recreation planner Jeff Christenson.
Use would be non-motorized and specifically managed for hiking and equestrian use only. The area would be open to hunting. It does not provide access to Summit Lake. No trail building is planned, and the recreation management area is not designated for mountain biking.
There will be a seasonal closure from Dec. 1 to April 30 to protect big game critical range.
The foothills of pinon-juniper woodlands would be managed for cross-country, dispersed recreation. According to the environmental assessment, the area is especially seen as a good place for equestrian use. The user group has expressed feelings of displacement because of the prevalence and popularity of mountain biking, which is often seen as being at odds with equestrian use.
The proposed gravel parking area is designed to accommodate three to five horse trailers and four to five passenger vehicles. It would be located to minimize visual impacts from the neighboring subdivision.
A gate would be installed at the parking access as well as wildlife educational signing to facilitate annual seasonal closure of the Summit parcel. Future site improvements, such as a bathroom and hitching posts, may be built based on need and funding. The Summit parcel is part of the Mud Creek grazing allotment, which will not be affected by the proposed new access.
Recreationists and the county commissioners have pushed for access to the BLM parcel, citing public ownership of the federal lands and need to disperse recreation away from other crowded areas.
Neighbors in the Summit Lake West subdivision have blocked public use, citing lack of legal access. They have complained about trespass issues on nearby private land and illegal motorized use in the BLM area.
There is one non-motorized access point on the south of the BLM parcel via the Cedar Mesa subdivision, but BLM officials said there is no room for a parking lot there.
In 2017, county commissioners adjusted road signs in the Summit Lake West subdivision to green-colored, public access, from red-colored, private use, based on language in the subdivision plat indicating the roads have public right of way.
The intent was to install an access off of Road N adjacent to BLM, but they hit a roadblock when a survey showed a sliver of private land between the road easement and the BLM land, preventing legal access.
This year, further county research revealed a two-track road along a non-exclusive subdivision easement to the west of Road N that could provide legal access, county officials said. That led to the extension of Road N by 900 feet, and the parking lot proposal by the BLM.
During a public hearing to add the Road N section, neighbors were concerned about increased traffic impacts to the county roads leading to the proposed new access BLM point.
According to Montezuma County traffic counts in 2020, on average 23 vehicles per day use Road 35.6, and 18 vehicles per day use Road 35.9.
“The neighborhood has worked hard getting this road built, and we have spent our own money on it. Now the county wants access. Out of fairness consider helping us out by providing some winter maintenance,” said one neighbor.
Another said signs are needed about regulations and enforcement of the rules is important.
“We are being imposed upon, special considerations are needed to protect the quietness and safety,” said resident Rebecca Seifer.
Commissioner Jim Candelaria said the county will monitor traffic on the road as a result of a new BLM access point to determine whether future action on the road is warranted.
The BLM parcel has a seasonal closure during winter road conditions, he said.
Commissioners added that the defined BLM access point will help prevent trespass on nearby private lands. When an area is open to the public, it can dissuade illegal dumping because more people are watching, added commissioner Larry Don Suckla.
“The big thing for us is to provide access to our public lands,” Candelaria said.
The county has ordered road signs that state the subdivision roads do not provide public access to Summit Lake or Puett Lake.