Recapture Canyon area sees ATV ban lifted, though parts of canyon remain off-limits

Protest ride through Recapture Canyon. near Blanding, Utah, May 10, 2014 | Photo by Dallas Hyland, St. George News

ST. GEORGE – Over 1,800 acres in the Recapture Canyon area of San Juan County previously closed to motorized access will reopen, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced Monday. However, motorized access through the bottom of the canyon itself remains off-limits.

Three years ago Recapture Canyon was the scene of an ATV ride into a part of the canyon protesting the closure of the canyon to motorized access, as well as federal management – or mismanagement as protectors would claim – of public lands.

The decision announced Monday rejects San Juan County’s right-of-way application through the canyon, yet allows for travel through by foot or horseback.

The BLM closed motorized access to Recapture Canyon in 2007 after the BLM determined a motorized trail cut through the canyon by ATV enthusiasts was damaging Native American archeological sites located there.

The decision provides plans for 6.8 miles of trails designed for motorized access. The majority of the trails would be specifically tailored for ATVs with 1.2 miles-worth suited for full-size vehicles. Zinke said the new trails will help provide greater access to public lands for individuals who may be disabled.

“Recreation on public lands is a big part of what we do at the Interior Department and the BLM, but for many persons with disabilities or for people who just don’t get around like they used to, our public lands aren’t accessible without motorized vehicles,” Zinke said.

Allowing ATVs and other vehicles in Recapture Canyon will open up opportunities for people to enjoy our public lands while still protecting the cultural and natural resources that make the place special,” he said. “On my first day in office I prioritized public lands access; I’m happy to continue that mission.”

The BLM approved the use of a system of trails at the north end of the canyon near Recapture Dam and above the canyon on the west rim for ATV and full-size vehicle use.

The new designation enhances the already extensive network of motorized trails including more than 31 miles of ATV-specific trails with just over 2,800 miles available for motorized use in the BLM Monticello Field Office area.

As a part of the decision, three new trailheads will also be constructed in the Recapture Canyon area and include parking and staging areas, kiosks, benches and other associated public facilities.

However, according to the decision Zinke referenced, either as a part of or prior to the initial work on new or existing routes, the BLM will work to restore six cultural sites reportedly damaged by the unauthorized ATV trail cut through Recapture Canyon between 2005 and 2007.

The Rapture Canyon ATV protect ride made the area one of the focal points in the controversial debate over federal management of public lands in May 2014 and occurred a month after the standoff between followers of Nevada Rancher Cliven Bundy and federal agents.

San Juan Commissioner Phil Lyman. Protest rally against BLM at Centennial Park, Blanding, Utah, May 10, 2014 | Photo by Dallas Hyland, St. George News

San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman was one of the organizers of the ATV ride into the canyon and was eventually convicted of trespassing and spent 10 days in jail for it.

Lyman said Monday that Zinke’s decision is “very vindicating” and brings some government recognition that the trail in the canyon is a road and clears the way for San Juan County’s pending legal claims that the county has a right to and ownership of the road.

“I’ll take it and I’m grateful,” said Lyman, who has appealed his conviction to the Denver-based 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. The court has not yet ruled on the appeal.

Lyman said Zinke’s decision on Recapture Canyon also bodes well for local officials who are calling for President Donald Trump to rescind the recent declaration of Bears Ears National Monument in the area.

A coalition of tribes pushed for President Barack Obama to designate the monument, but Lyman, state lawmakers and Gov. Gary Herbert have called it overly broad and said it closes off access.

Lyman said Zinke “has shown pretty clearly that he is willing to look at the realities of these situations.”

Mathew Gross with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance said his organization is pleased that Monday’s order doesn’t give the county rights to the road, a move that could potentially open the door to widening or expanding the road. Gross said the order is “a reasonably balanced approach,” and his organization wants to ensure that cultural resources near ATV routes are not disturbed.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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Email: mkessler@stgnews.com

Twitter: @MoriKessler

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