San Juan County leaders have been asking for over a decade for more access into Recapture Canyon just east of Blanding. On Monday, federal land managers gave them an answer, when U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke weighed in.
He announced that most of the dirt trail running down the canyon bottom will remain closed to motorized recreation – a disappointment to San Juan County leaders. But three trailheads will be developed on the canyon rim, along with some trails for ATV’s and full-sized vehicles.
The move ends a long debate that’s been a flashpoint in the broader fight over federal control of public lands in the West.
“It’s a huge step in the right direction, and I’m really glad to have it,” says Phil Lyman, the San Juan County commission chairman who’s led the campaign to allow more motorized access in and around the canyon. He’s even served jail time for a federal misdemeanor conviction after he led a 2014 protest ride down a canyon-bottom trail that the U.S. Bureau of Land Management had closed to motorized vehicles.
“I guess it gives us at least something to respond to.”
Conservation advocates describe Zinke’s decision as a mixed bag.
“We’re glad to see that those illegally constructed routes will remain closed,” says Mathew Gross, spokesman for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.
Gross says the canyon is filled with world-class archaeological sites and areas sacred to Native Americans, and he worries that Zinke’s decision makes those places more vulnerable to damage.
“Is it appropriate to ride an ATV across Gettysburg, or across a cemetery? You know I think there are some places that some forms of recreation are inappropriate.”
Critics have 30 days to appeal what’s considered the final agency ruling for Recapture Canyon.