GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado - Garfield County commissioners want to work with federal land managers to ensure that access to public lands and road connections in the western half of the county are preserved.
"More and more access to public lands is being closed down," Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said during a work session with U.S. Bureau of Land Management Grand Junction Field Office representatives in Glenwood Springs on Wednesday.
"One of our priorities as commissioners is to try to protect that access," he said during a discussion of the BLM's draft travel management plan, which is currently open for public comments.
A preferred alternative that's still under review would result in the closure of numerous BLM roads and road connections in the largely uninhabited portion of Garfield County that stretches from De Beque west to the Utah state line.
The area north of Fruita is especially popular with off-road vehicle enthusiasts, mountain bikers, hunters and other recreational users. It's also an active area for oil and gas development.
"That's half of the county that we're talking about," Garfield Commission Chairman John Martin said. "There is a lot of historical hunting and recreational access there that we want to protect."
Comparing the "no action" alternative, which would maintain all existing roads that currently show up on BLM maps, with the preferred alternative, "you can see how that really affects the traveling public," Martin said.
The result would be a more than 50 percent reduction in road miles that would be open to the public under the new draft management plan, he said.
Garfield County has asked to sign on as a cooperating agency in advising the BLM on the sprawling network of roads that lie north of the Mesa/Garfield county line.
Martin said the county can provide road surveys and maps dating back to the early 1900s that show many of the roads proposed for closure or designation as administrative routes are historic public easements.
The BLM is in the process of revising long-range resource management plans, including travel plans, for each of the local field offices.
The Colorado River Valley office, which governs BLM lands in the eastern part of Garfield County, completed the public comment period for its draft plan last year. The plan for that area is expected to be finalized later this year, BLM spokesman David Boyd said.
The Grand Junction office just did identify a preference for travel management on BLM lands in Mesa, Delta and western Garfield counties. The public comment period continues until April 25, although several requests have been made to extend that deadline, said Katie Stevens, the new Grand Junction field manager.
In developing the draft management plan, "we do try to balance the demands for public access with our goals related to conservation values," Stevens said.
Any roads that are proposed for closure are either in areas that have been identified for resource protection, or provide duplicate access to certain areas that can be achieved with a single route, she said.
"Our goal has been to get people where they want to go," Stevens said. "But we also want it to be a quality recreational experience."
Several area user groups, including four-wheel-drive clubs, have also requested that the comment period be extended.
A lot of people from eastern Garfield County and the Roaring Fork Valley use the roads in question in western Garfield and Mesa counties, said Greg Noss of the Hi Country 4 Wheelers.
He suggested that the BLM have an open house in Rifle as a way to reach more users from this part of the county and get their input.
As it stands, the only remaining public open house that's scheduled before the comment period is set to close is on March 14 in Grand Junction, Stevens said.