Second BLM open house: More trails proposed; comments do matter

ST. GEORGE – More and better trails have been proposed for the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area, a move officials believe will help protect habitat by keeping hikers on the trails.

The St. George Field Office of the Bureau of Land Management-Utah is conducting public open houses this week to provide the public with information about recently released draft management plans for the Beaver Dam Wash and Red Cliffs national conservation areas. The public is invited to ask questions, give comments and voice concerns.

An open house, held Wednesday at the Hurricane City offices, was the second of three informational open houses; the first was Tuesday in St. George.

Read more: BLM open house draws diverse crowd, many concerns

A third meeting will be held Thursday at the Red Lion Hotel, 161 W. 600 South in Salt Lake City, from 6-8 p.m.

New trails

BLM Recreation Planner Dave Kiel said he has fielded a lot of questions about roads and trails from the public at the open houses.

“One of the biggest complaints we’ve had is (about) the trail system in the Red Cliffs NCA,” Kiel said.

The trail system that was originally created in the area was based on old livestock trails, power line roads, horse trails and ATV tracks, which are not the most attractive for hiking or biking.

People were looking for a specific recreational experience and they weren’t getting it on that existing trail system,” Kiel said.

“So what our plans are, are to expand that trail system, create some nice single-track that people are going to want to hike and bike and ride horses on … and give them the recreational experience that they’re looking for.”

This will protect the critical desert tortoise habitat the trails go through by encouraging hikers and bikers to stay on the trails.

Access concerns

Access is a priority to many who attended the open houses, Kiel said. Local organized recreational groups were represented at the open houses, including hikers, mountain bikers, climbers, off-road and land use groups, and backcountry horsemen.

“There is a lot of concern out there,” Kiel said, “but some of it is unwarranted because when people are actually out on the ground, they’re not going to see a lot of closures because all of the popular routes, both motorized and nonmotorized, that are used for recreation are preserved in virtually all alternatives.”

However, there could be closures; for example, a road that goes to a defunct cattle operation would have no reason to be open and could be closed and rehabilitated, Kiel said.

The preferred alternative in the current comment process is Alternative B; however, the preferred alternative in the upcoming county transportation plan is Alternative D, which maximizes access, Kiel said. It adds 250 miles of trails, mostly nonmotorized, which adds critical connections to make some “looping opportunities.”

“And we think we can do that in an environmentally sound manner,” Kiel said. “That’s why we put them in there.”

Development in the Reserve?

If a northern transportation route is approved and built, only the land needed for the transportation corridor would be used, Dawna Ferris-Rowley, manager of the Red Cliffs and Beaver Dam Wash national conservation areas, said at the open house.

No other development would be allowed in the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area because the area is protected habitat for the endangered desert tortoise and other species.

Do comments make any difference?

“We review all of the comments,” Ferris-Rowley said.

Comments need to be “substantive” to be seriously considered. Substantive comments provide new information, identify errors in the BLM’s analysis or in the plan document text, or describe how a commenter’s use of public land would be impacted.

“The comments do, in fact, influence how we prepare the proposed plans,”Ferris-Rowley said.

The next step is for the BLM to prepare proposed plans, as well as a final environmental impact statement in which the BLM acknowledges and responds to all substantive comments.

How to comment

In addition to commenting at the open houses, written comments will be accepted by letter or email until Oct. 15. The most useful comments are those that contain new technical or scientific information relevant to the proposed action, the BLM said a news release.

Comments should be as specific as possible. Comments that contain only opinions or preferences will not receive a formal response but may be considered in the BLM decision-making process.

Please reference “NCA RMPs” when submitting comments to:

BLM-Utah St. George Field Office
Attn:  Keith Rigtrup
345 East Riverside Drive
St. George, UT 84790

Email: utsgrmp@blm.gov

Before including an address, phone number, email address or other personally identifiable information in any comments, be aware that the entire comment — including personal identifying information — may be made publicly available at any time. Requests to withhold personal identifying information from public review can be submitted, but the BLM cannot guarantee that it will be able to accommodate those requests.

Open house details

  • Thursday, Sept. 3 | 6-8 p.m. | Red Lion Hotel, 161 W. 600 South, Salt Lake City

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