The Bureau of Land Management’s Tres Rios Field Office plans to roll out an interactive online map that allows people to submit comments on what roads and trails they use.
The program will launch in January on the Tres Rios webpage to gather public input for a regional BLM travel management plan expected to take five years to develop, said field manager Connie Clementson.
“This is brand-new way for vetting a huge trail and road inventory to the public,” she said. “We are doing this to be ultra transparent and inclusive in the transportation plan process.”
The travel proposal isn’t in place yet. Initial comments are being sought to gauge trail and road use.
The Tres Rios region has 2,500 miles of inventoried roads and trails, which are divided into three geographic areas. Three maps will be rolled out in phases, with the comments accepted for the Montezuma County area first for 90 to 120 days.
The next areas open for comment will be the Dolores and San Miguel county area as one geographic area, and the La Plata and Archuleta counties as another geographic area.
During a preview for journalists and local officials on Thursday, BLM map technician Patrick Parks showed how the program brings up detailed inventory of roads and trails and allows users to click on a specific route to find out road information, including photos.
Users are then directed to a Geoform page where they can comment on a road or trail and answer a series of questions about it. The information is then stored for analysis by the BLM.
“Users will be able zoom in on specific routes, use widgets to create map layers or change the background to an aerial photo,” Parks said.
For the past two years, college interns armed with iPads and GPS units have been plotting, photographing and recording data on every BLM road and trail revealed by recent aerial photography. They recorded whether a road was two-track, four-wheel drive, paved or graveled or if a trail appeared to be used by livestock, wildlife, hikers, horses, mountain bikes, ATVs, four-wheelers or motorcycles.
If the surface is well-worn, it was recorded as “heavy use.” If there is growing grass, it is recorded as “moderate use.” If rabbit brush is in the route, it’s “light,” said BLM recreation planner Jeff Christensen.
“We want to know your experience, and how a route can be improved,” he said.
Comments could include how a road is used for recreation or if it is used to access a stock pond, oil and gas area, mining claim or favorite camping spot, he said. Commenters may also point out the BLM erred in its classification.
Montezuma County Commissioner Keenan Ertel said that it is important that the BLM incorporate cattle trails and game trails because they are often used by recreationists.
“Mountain bikers use those trails to connect routes,” he said. “For example, they could be used to create a trail from Cortez to Moab.”
Clementson said commenters may suggest where they want new trails as well. New trails require environmental and public review, and can take two to three years to approve.
As part of the analysis, the BLM will determine whether some roads or trails should be closed because they are duplicative.
No decisions are being made at this step of the inventory process, Clementson said. In the development of the proposed travel management plan, each geographic region will go through the National Environmental Policy Act, which includes more public review and chance for appeals before a final plan is issued and implemented.
Nationwide, the BLM has transitioned from open travel to travel on existing routes only, she said. The new travel plan will restrict travel to designated routes only.
Only one geographic region at a time will accept comments. However, Ertel suggested that for continuity, the map should show roads and trails in adjacent BLM areas, including Canyons of the Ancients National Monument and BLM lands across the Utah border. Canyons of the Ancients has a travel management plan.
“People out there recreating don’t necessarily distinguish between BLM and the monument,” or which state they are in, he said.
Maps and comment forms will be available for those who do not have access to a computer.