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New trails at Phil’s World challenged on appeal

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Friday, March 23, 2018 6:07 PM
The Phil’s World trailhead and parking lot off U.S. Highway 160 regularly fills up. A plan to add trails it has been put on hold pending an appeal.
Bikers at Phil’s World will have to wait on a proposed expansion. Wildlife advocates have appealed a decision to build 22.5 miles of new trails.

The Phil’s World trail expansion project east of Cortez is on hold pending an appeal made by local wildlife advocates.

After four years of environmental and archaeological studies, the Tres Rios office of the Bureau of Land Management approved a plan in January to add 22.5 miles of non-motorized trails at Phil’s World.

Under BLM rules, there is a 30-day appeal period for approved projects.

Citing impacts to wildlife, Montezuma County residents Robert and LouAnn Ball appealed the decision to approve the trails to the Interior Board of Land Appeals, which will review their objections. The Balls live adjacent to the proposed expanded trail system.

They have also petitioned for a stay while the appeal is reviewed and decided on. If the stay is granted, no new trail construction can begin pending the Land Appeals decision. If the stay is denied, work could begin on the new trails during the appeal process.

The board has until early April to rule on the stay, but the appeal process and final decision “could take some time,” said Tres Rios Field Manager Connie Clementson. “The appeals board will take a hard look at our analysis.”

The board could require additional analysis or mitigations, rule the decision to approve is fine, rescind part of the plan, or withdraw the decision, she said.

In their appeal, the Balls argue that the new trails will disrupt wildlife, fragment habitat, impact hunting availability, and displace wildlife onto private property where they can cause damage to crops.

“Mule deer depend on this area for winter range and are commonly encountered here,” according to the appeal’s statement of facts.

“This expansive developed trails system and the predicted exponential increase in visitation represent a significant decrease in available winter wildlife habitat.”

The environmental analysis on the new trails used 22 criteria to mitigate impacts to wildlife and cultural resources, including creating 385-acre buffer around a golden eagle’s nest, avoiding archaeological sites, and having trails cross drainages rather than go through them.

The trail expansion has support from the Montezuma County commissioners, the city of Cortez, local mountain bikers, hikers, horse riders and bike clubs. It is seen as a recreation and health benefit for locals, and attracts visitors who boost the local economy.

But others have been critical of the plan for the increased traffic it will cause on county roads leading up to the new trailheads and parking lots, impacts to wildlife and hunting, and no seasonal closures to protect winter wildlife habitat.

“A lot of people are excited to start seeing trail construction for the Phil’s World plan, but we need to continue to go through the process,” Clementson said.

Phil’s World currently has 27 miles of single track that are popular with mountain bikers.

The trailhead parking lot off U.S. Highway 160 regularly fills with more than 50 vehicles. Its lower elevation and mild winters allow biking almost year-round.

The current plan would add 22.5 miles of new single-track trails, including new parking lots and trailheads off County Roads L and M.

Phil’s World saw 17,754 visitors between October 2014 and September 2015, according to trail counter data.

jmimiaga@the-journal.com

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