Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Protest Ride Complicates BLM Trail Study

Judy Fahys

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.”

Credit Judy Fahys / KUER News
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.

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.

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
KUER is listener-supported public radio. Support this work by making a donation today.