Off-roaders, rockhounds join forces to fight road closures

Composite image | Background photo of Zion National Park by Riderolga/iStock/Getty Images, St. George News

ST. GEORGE – The Utah 4 Wheel Drive Association is joining forces with two gem and mineral groups to stop the closures of Utah roads and mineral collection sites.

The Utah 4 Wheel Drive Association, American Lands Access Association and the Rocky Mountain Federation of Mineralogical Societies have formed a coalition to stop road closures and the closure of mineralogical collecting sites.

The coalition intends to petition elected officials to reopen roads, Utah 4 Wheel Drive Association Treasurer Jack Johnston said.

“We are asking our politicians to file a complaint with the BLM to have them reopened,” Johnston said.

The Bureau of Land Management administers approximately 23 million acres of public lands in Utah, and has a mandate from the Federal Land Policy and Management Act to manage for “multiple use and sustained yield,” Johnston said in a press release, yet more than 6,500 miles of identifiable roads have been closed in Utah.

Johnston is a member of all three organizations and will be spearheading the effort with county, state, federal, public and private organizations. The group is putting together a list of roads that have been closed which the group would like to see reopened.

We are proposing that every effort will be made to keep all roads open and only a Class III survey can be used to close roads. If it becomes necessary to close a road then another previously closed road of equal value will be opened so there is ‘no net loss’ of available roads in the state of Utah,” the press release states.

The first efforts of the coalition will focus on the re-opening of three roads and their associated collecting sites: Paria Canyon, which was closed in 2009; Angels Arch which was gated in 1998 and closed in 2009; and Canaan Mountain Saw Mill Road, which some believe should be classified as an RS-2477 road.

However, public land managers say that reopening the three roads is not up to them.

According to Johnston, the Paria Canyon Road was closed based on petitions submitted to the Bureau of Land Management by the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and The Wilderness Society. The closure took effect shortly after a protest ride up the canyon in 2009.

However, Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument spokesman Larry Crutchfield said Paria Canyon Road is within the Paria-Hackberry Wilderness Study Area which was created prior to the monument’s designation.

Wilderness study areas must be managed in a way that would not prevent Congress from designating it as wilderness until Congress makes a decision, Crutchfield said.

Until Congress acts to either designate it as wilderness or releases it, we have to manage it so as not to prevent Congress from designating it as wilderness,” Crutchfield said.

The Paria River Corridor was not designated as an open route in the monument’s transportation plan; the matter was challenged in federal court and ultimately ruled valid in 2009, Crutchfield said.

The Bureau of Land Management does not have the authority to open the road, Crutchfield said, adding it’s up to Congress. And it is possible that Congress could designate the area as wilderness but leave the Paria River corridor to remain open, he said.

It was a historic pioneer route, that pioneers used,” Crutchfield said.

A right of way through Paria Road could be granted under the R.S. 2477, or quiet title, lawsuit filed by Utah counties. If that were to happen while the wilderness study area designation was still in effect, Crutchfield said he isn’t sure what would happen.

Read more: Backroad access: County seeks witnesses to help keep historic roads open

In the Canaan Mountain area, Congress identified approximately 44,531 acres there as wilderness in the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009, Bureau of Land Management Color Country District spokesman Christian Venhuizen said.

“We complied with the law, which included closing OHV access along the road when it entered the wilderness. Since it is a law and not a BLM decision, it would take another law to change it,” he said.

Angel Arch in Canyonlands National Park was gated in 1998. After the National Park Service issued its final rule closing the canyon in 2004 San Juan County and Utah officials filed suit.

However, the decision was upheld in May 2011 by U.S. District Judge Bruce Jenkins, who said officials failed to prove the Salt Creek Canyon wash had a history of continuous use, the Deseret News reported.

Anyone wishing to help with the coalition’s efforts can contact Jack Johnston by email or by written correspondence to: John A. “Jack” Johnston, Public Lands Advocate, 4091 W Swensen Farm Drive, Riverton, Utah, 84096.

For more information contact the Rocky Mountain Federation of Mineralogical Societies, the Utah 4 Wheel Drive Association and the American Lands Access Association.

Email: japplegate@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

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