Environment & Public Lands
5:50 pm
Tue May 13, 2014

Protest Ride Complicates BLM Trail Study

A rally at Blanding's Centennial Park before the ATV ride. County Commissioner Phil Lyman (center, wearing the light-colored shirt) led the drive on a closed BLM road in Recapture Canyon
Credit Judy Fahys / KUER News

Federal investigators are continuing their probe into a protest ride Saturday through Recapture Canyon. And that includes sizing up the impact that the all-terrain vehicles might have had on the canyon's archaeological sites.

Some people regard Recapture Canyon as a mini-Mesa Verde National Park. Both contain prehistoric ruins, religious kivas and ancient burial grounds that make them world famous. But over the weekend more than 60 protestors drove ATVs into those sensitive areas.

Now the U.S. Bureau of Land Management has to see if San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman and the other riders caused any new damage to the canyon’s cultural resources.

“On April 28, we did send a letter to Commissioner Lyman,” says Megan Crandall, spokeswoman for BLM in Utah. “In that letter we were very clear to say, please understand that the course of action you are embarking on has the potential to hinder or delay completion of the environmental assessment.”

ATV drivers approach the boundary line to the closed area in Recapture Canyon on Saturday. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management says it intends to prosecute those who broke the law by crossing that boundary with motorized vehicle.
Credit Judy Fahys / KUER News

Re-visiting that assessment might mean an even longer wait for ATV enthusiasts and the county commissioners, who asked BLM for a right-of-way 8 years ago to put an ATV trail through the canyon. They even signed an agreement with BLM last fall to wrap up the study.

Crandall says the canyon’s rich resources mean a lot is on the line.

“We are talking about the possibility of irreparable damage to irreplaceable cultural resources,” she notes.

  Crandall says the BLM planned to release the assessment for public comment this summer.

But Phil Lyman says any delay would just be more agency foot-dragging.

“I think they want the canyon closed,” he says. “This is not about even preserving archaeology as much as it is sending a message to the people of Blanding that they can own us, they can control us.”

Lyman says many of Saturday’s ATV protesters worry that the BLM will follow through on its threat to prosecute them.

Undercover BLM agents gathered evidence in the canyon during the ride, and bureau officials will ask the U.S. Attorney for Utah to handle any charges.