Coordination improves ability of agencies to maintain trail
Feb 6, 2023
SANTA FE, N.M. – The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) New Mexico Office has acquired a right-of-way from the New Mexico State Land Office (NMSLO) to improve recreational access along the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail (CDNST), the agencies announced today. The right-of-way will authorize and facilitate hiking through segments of state land located along the CDNST and will enable federal funds to be used for the administration, operation, and maintenance of the CDNST where it crosses state land. Today’s announcement follows years of collaboration between BLM New Mexico, the State Land Office, and nonprofit organization the Continental Divide Trail Coalition (CDTC).
“We like to say that the State Land Office is open for adventure, and that has never been truer than it is today as this partnership will significantly improve access to one of the world’s most beloved thru-hike trails,” said New Mexico Commissioner of Public Lands Stephanie Garcia Richard. “When I created the Office of Outdoor Recreation within the State Land Office, achievements like these were the goal. Outdoor recreation is an essential part of who we are as New Mexicans, and the Continental Divide Trail brings thousands to our beautiful state every year. I’m proud that we were able to work so closely with our partners at the BLM and CDTC to make this partnership a reality.”
“After seven years of tireless dedication and successful collaboration with the New Mexico State Land Office along with other various partners and agencies, obtaining this right-of-way grant for the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail across state trust land in New Mexico is such an exciting accomplishment for the Bureau of Land Management,” said Melanie Barnes, BLM New Mexico State Director. “This multi-year project solidifies the team’s hard work and commitment to conserve natural, historic, and cultural resources along the trail corridor. We look forward to continuing this partnership to ensure the public has continued access to primitive hiking, horseback riding, biking and high-quality sightseeing for years to come.”
“We are thrilled to see this acquisition be finalized” said Teresa Martinez, CDTC Executive Director, “It has taken a long time and a great amount of dedication by the State Lands Office Team, the Bureau of Land Management staff, and CDTC staff, and we are thrilled to see how cooperative stewardship efforts in New Mexico will be a model for efforts all along the CDT and show what great things can be accomplished when work is done in partnership. And, most important, to create access to experience the CDT for people from all over the world, who will also be introduced to the amazing communities along the CDT in New Mexico and help support their growing Outdoor Recreation Economies today and tomorrow.”
Before the acquisition of the right-of-way, the State Land Office would provide the CDTC with permits to issue to CDNST hikers, allowing them to lawfully cross state land as they trek the trail. The right-of-way acquired by BLM New Mexico removes the need for hikers to obtain an extra permit to access the CDNST. The right-of-way will also enable the BLM to maintain the trail and make improvements passing through state land. These improvements are designed with multi-use principles in mind, thus improving the trail experience for hikers while mindful of the needs of New Mexico’s agricultural users.
The CDNST extends from the Canadian border to Mexico, traversing five states and over 3000 miles. Within New Mexico, the CDNST spans around 820 miles and crosses through multiple jurisdictional authorities including lands managed by the BLM, U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service, NMSLO, Tribal governments, and private landowners. Of these 820 miles, approximately 80 miles are not yet completed, or identified through location or construction.
Thru-hiking has become more popular along the trail in recent years, increasing the need to improve access for hikers. The trail also helps buoy local economies near the trail throughout New Mexico. A 2019 Small Business Survey Conducted by the CDTC which gathered information from 200 business owners show that CDNST, the public lands it traverses, and the recreationists that use it are a crucial part of the economic activity in these towns. Almost all of those surveyed (97%) believed that enhancing the trail and public lands is essential to their community. In addition, 88% of those surveyed said they have seen economic benefits and growth in the past 5 years due to the trail’s use (CDTC 2019).
Prior to BLM New Mexico’s acquisition of the right-of-way, the BLM, NMSLO, and CDTC conducted extensive public outreach and concluded a National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process. External scoping for the project began in May 2018 and consisted of letters to BLM grazing lessees making them aware of the Proposed Action. Additionally, the NMSLO mailed letters to their grazing lessees who have the potential to be affected by the Proposed Action. Lessees were invited by the BLM to join the site inspections that occurred within their grazing allotment(s). Some letters were received back from allottees, and these letters were considered in the analysis.
Additionally, 22 federally recognized Tribes were notified of this project via a courtesy letter sent out from the BLM NMSO on June 27, 2018. This letter invited the Tribes to government-to-government consultation. Three responses were received from the Hopi Tribe, White Mountain Apache Tribe, and the Comanche Nation.
A summary web page for the CDNST NMSLO ROW was created on the BLM’s National NEPA Register website (https://eplanning.blm.gov). An environmental assessment conducted for the project and a finding of no significant impact were posted for a public comment period from June 3 to July 5, 2022. During public comment period, the BLM NMSO received eleven public comments on the project. All comments were reviewed and addressed appropriately within the NEPA.