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Public access to land near Summit Lake hits snag

2-foot-wide strip of bordering private land might need easement
Montezuma County and Bureau of Land Management officials have been working to improve access to BLM lands south of Summit Lake. They took a tour of the site in June.

Access to public lands south of Summit Lake could be blocked by a 2-foot-wide strip of private land, officials learned Monday.

The Bureau of Land Management and Montezuma County have been negotiating improved access to public land off County Road N.

This summer, the county took over jurisdiction of Roads 35.6 and Road N to improve access, and the BLM is considering building a parking lot and access point for nonmotorized use.

But a county survey released Monday shows a narrow strip of private land between the edge of a 60-foot road easement and the BLM boundary. The 200-foot-long strip is 2 feet wide on one end, then narrows to a foot on the other.

“It appears that without an easement across the private land, there is no public access at this point,” said James Dietrich, federal land planner for the county. “We want to make sure we have appropriate access there and hope the landowner will be agreeable.”

After noting the subdivision plat states the roads are open to the public, the county designated all roads in the West Summit Lake subdivision green-signed roads, meaning they are under county jurisdiction and will receive limited maintenance.

Their intent was to improve access to BLM lands. The roads will still be public, county officials said, but new signs indicating the BLM access point have been put on hold.

“Before there is any access, there needs to be an agreement with the private landowner,” said commissioner Keenan Ertel.

Connie Clementson, field manager for the BLM’s Tres Rios office, said they are aware of the new survey and are looking into it.

Regarding negotiating an easement, Clementson said “the BLM is always interested in working with private land owners to gain access to their public lands.”

Summit Lake West residents have been vocal about their concerns of increased traffic and road wear due to a new BLM access point. They have been paying to upkeep the neighborhood’s narrow dirt roads for 40 years, and say it is unfair to burden residents with increased impacts and costs.

Resident Cheryl McMillan filed a lawsuit last month asking the courts to force the county and BLM to take over road maintenance and make improvements.

There has been an ongoing debate locally about improving access to public lands, and how to control impacts.

The BLM says they depend on county roads for access, and point out there benefits and drawbacks to living next to public lands.

“Use of public lands changes over time, and it can be challenging living next to them,” Clementson said at an earlier meeting. “We don’t foresee heavy use there.”

Recreation groups are looking for more room to play, including the Mesa Verde Backcountry Horsemen, who have been lobbying for access to the land south of Summit Lake.

“We’d like to see a parking lot so we can enjoy our public lands. We’re a responsible group, and would not go in when it’s muddy, or leave trash,” said Larry Dozier, of the group Backcountry Horse Men men of Colorado.

Residents counter that without proper infrastructure in place such as a better road and parking lot, visitors will be forced to park along the narrow road and block traffic. They also worry that opening access will cause illegal dumping and ATV use, damage to archaeological sites, and increase fire risks.

“Will it be patrolled? What about trash bins, bathrooms, campfires. We have serious concerns about wildfires,” said resident Cheryl McMillan at an earlier meeting.

Access to the isolated BLM lands south of Summit Lake also appears possible from the south via the Cedar Mesa subdivision.

Plat language there also supports public use of the roads, and it goes a step further by designating a “20-foot-wide easement for pedestrian and equestrian use” to BLM lands off Road 35. However, possible access from Road J.7 has better potential because of some room for parking.

jmimiaga@the-journal.com

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