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The idea of public land means nothing to Utah County Commissioner

The idea of public land means nothing to Utah County Commissioner

In the wake of last month’s armed confrontation in Nevada, where right-wing militia threatened to shoot down federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) agents with automatic weapons, another anti-federal government showdown is coming to a head in Utah. Over in Nevada, the issue was defending deadbeat rancher Cliven Bundy’s illegal cattle grazing; now, in Utah, a county commissioner wants to build an illegal road down a protected federal canyon; he’s planned an illegal ATV rally.

The locals consider the canyon their own recreational backyard and, like the commissioner, they believe they ought to be able to drive their ATVs anywhere they want. The publisher of the local San Juan Record thinks the rally could turn ugly: “This may blow up to be significantly more than they thought,” he said. “I think there are those who would like everyone with an AK-47 to be here.”

The larger issue is who, if anyone, owns the land.

Edward Abbey first introduced me to the canyons and mesas of southeastern Utah 40 years ago. Soon thereafter, Recapture Canyon became my favorite place to visit the beauty of this country and pay my respects to the ancients who lived in this homeland thousands of years before European settlement. About 25 years ago, I started taking my small children down here, to a place the kids called “the lost city,” because there was a 1,000-year-old Anasazi pueblo without significant signs of looting or pot hunting. I have taken many children there since, along with family and the people I love most in the world. Recapture Canyon is that special—I’ve taken probably 40 trips there, sometimes with an overnight camp. On each of these privileged descents into Recapture, we walked and climbed down. We never used a vehicle or ATV.

This magic land so loved by children is only a handful of miles southeast of Blanding, Utah, in San Juan County. This is exactly where a San Juan County commissioner plans on leading an illegal ATV “protest” ride down and through Recapture Canyon on May 8, 2014. The road they propose (we’ve witnessed illegal ATV use of the canyon throughout the past decade) would be 14.3 miles long and accessed from four trailheads.

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