The trail plan needs approval from the agency and state archaeologist Holly Norton, who are responsible for reviewing projects on federal lands to ensure archaeological resources are protected.
In a mitigation and cultural analysis report submitted to the historic preservation office, the Tres Rios BLM office concluded the trail proposal has “no adverse effects” on archaeological sites.
In a May 3 letter, the agency responded that they have “concerns regarding BLM’s definition of the Area of Potential Effects, the adequacy of prior identification of historic properties and the assessment of adverse effects.”
Jeff Christenson, recreation planner for the BLM Tres Rios office, said the preservation office’s response to the BLM plan “had some points of agreement, some points of concern, and express(ed) disagreement with certain elements of the cultural report.”
He said the “dialogue does not kill the project, and the letter included no decision by the (historic preservation office) regarding adverse impacts.”
In a letter sent June 13, the BLM provided a detailed response clarifying their rationale and findings, and are waiting to hear back from the preservation office.
The Montezuma County commission have been advocating for the new trails, and they expressed disappointment over the state’s response to the BLM cultural mitigation plan.
In a June 23 letter, they urged the state preservation office to reconsider their review, and praised the Tres Rios BLM office for a thorough planning effort.
“With all due respect, we would like you to reconsider your position in this matter,” the letter states. “We have been in close coordination with the BLM from the beginning on this proposed trail expansion and believe the BLM have dutifully and professionally complied with the Section 106 review. We firmly believe that they have arrived at their determination of no adverse effect through a valid scientific process.”
The commissioners further state that the Tres Rios Field office “are no strangers to cultural resource protection (and) probably have more experience in this area than any other field office in the state. They take their cultural resource analysis very seriously.”
James Dietrich, natural resources planner for the county, said that the preservation office is concerned the trail expansion could create more social trails, potentially threatening ruins and increasing looting.
“People would not get away with that in that area. Trail users help monitor the area and would call in any problems they see,” he said. “The BLM did a good job of routing trails away from cultural sites.”
Dietrich said the commissioners would like to invite historic preservation office staff to visit Cortez to discuss the matter and take a tour of Phil’s World.
In September, the Bureau of Land Management released an Environment Assessment of the trail expansion at Phil’s World, located 3 miles east of Cortez off U.S. Highway 160. Various alternatives show more trails to the north and east, adding between 18 and 26 more miles to the current 27 miles of trails. The plan also proposes to add two parking lots and trailheads at County Roads L and M.
Phil’s World is composed of 2,400 acres of BLM land and 730 acres of state land. Primarily used by mountain bikers, its 27 miles of single-track trails saw 17,754 visitors between October 2014 and September 2015, according to trail counter data.
Calls to the State Historic Preservation Office about the matter were not returned as of press time.