Organized by leaders of SPEAR (San Juan Public Entry and Access Rights), they drove three abreast in columns that stretched for blocks north on Main Street to the Bureau of Land Management office in Monticello. There they staged a peaceful protest against the environmental groups and government policies that they say are shutting down roads and trails in San Juan County. They claim many of these trails have been in existence since the late 1800s.
It is possibly the largest protest ever organized in the history of San Juan County.
Waiting for the caravan was a contingent from the Great Old Broads for Wilderness groups. They carried signs saying things like “Take a Hike” and sparred verbally with protesters.
The BLM, in addition to the Great Old Broads group and the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA), were mentioned again and again in protest speeches. Signs by locals such as “SUWA-cide” were in evidence.
With over 200 local residents clapping and cheering, San Juan County Commissioners Bruce Adams and Phil Lyman addressed the group.
Adams blamed road and trail closures on wealthy environmentalists pressuring the government. “We are offended and fed up with the fat-cat influence in San Juan Country,” Adams shouted through the wind and a smattering of snowflakes as the crowd cheered.
Brent Johansen, a SPEAR leader from Blanding, said, “People on the Wasatch Front seem oblivious to what is happening in rural Utah as the U.S. Forest Service and the BLM continue closing roads and trails as fast as they can.”
Local residents expressed anger about outsiders who they say think they have the right to reserve millions of acres of land for only the able-bodied who have the time to take long hikes with backpacks.
Shelly Smith, the BLM director in southeastern Utah out of the Moab office, spoke to the group. She said the agency legally had to take steps to protect ancient sites and streams which support beaver colonies.
Later in the day, between 30 and 40 local people took a hike into the hotly-contested area of Recapture Canyon, where two Blanding men were recently fined $35,000 for causing damage to a trail that has been in use for over 100 years.
Protesters said the trail was originally built by Azariah Brown from his homestead near the canyon, so he could take livestock into the canyon for water. It was also used to take cows to and from the Abajo Mountains each year for grazing.
Hikers at the event report the only evidence of recent work in the canyon was a bridge and two small culverts across the stream. The bridge builders had also chopped down three cedar trees for material to build the bridge.
BLM investigators report that $350,000 worth of damage had been done to the trail and that was the figure the judge used to levy the fines.
Alan Peterson, of Helper, observed that the improvements made by the “Blanding criminals” did nothing more than help the trail hold up against hikers and bikers who still use it.
The “Old Broads” group said the culverts and bridge prove the improvements were done at great expense and effort and thus the fines were justified.
And so the battle continues. SUWA has initiated a proposal to the BLM to shut down a large number of roads and trails in the Greater Canyonlands region of southeast Utah to motorized vehicles.
They did not notify a single County Leader in any of the four Utah counties that would be impacted by the proposal. The leaders (and the local media, who were also not notified, even after requesting to receive information) found out about the SUWA plan by reading the Salt Lake City newspapers.