Road issues in spotlight
Road closures and road openings have moved front and center in San Juan County, with three separate incidents gaining the attention of area residents.
In the past week, several small roads were “obliterated” on land managed by the U.S. Forest Service within the current boundaries of Bears Ears National Monument.
Berms and barriers were placed on the handful of roads, which are mostly in the North Elk and Horse Mountain areas of Elk Ridge.
Some of the roads led to dispersed camping areas and others have been used by hunters, wood gatherers and for a number of additional uses.
Forest Service officials state that the roads have been identified as unauthorized for years and are simply being closed as a regular course of business.
Many are questioning the timing of the actions, particularly since a presidential executive order on the Bears Ears is expected at any time.
The national monument was created by U.S. President Barack Obama on December 28, 2016. Since that time, the new President, Donald Trump, has ordered a review of the monument.
While Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke has made a general recommendation that the monument be decreased in size, no official statements or formal announcements have been made.
Leaked documents and off-the-record statements by federal officials suggest that the area where the road closures occurred may not be within the boundaries of the eventual “right-sized” national monument.
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This week, the San Juan County road department is scheduled to blade the existing road into a closed area of Recapture Canyon.
A road grader will work on a one-mile stretch of road that stretches along the canyon bottom to the point where a pipeline owned by the San Juan Water Conservancy District exits the canyon.
Although it is within an area of the canyon that is closed to other vehicles, the Water Conservancy District uses the road to maintain the pipeline.
In May, 2012, a group of riders drove along the road in protest of the prolonged closure of the canyon by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
A smaller group of riders continued past the maintenance road and continued along a newer trail down the canyon, while others turned around and left the canyon while staying on the pipeline maintenance road.
Two local men, including San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman, were convicted of organizing the ride.
As a courtesy, San Juan County notified the BLM of the road work in advance. The county reports that the BLM concurred on the action but was concerned about an archaeological site along the roadway. The BLM asked to be involved in the grading process in order to avoid the archaeology site.
The road has apparently not been graded in a few years, even though the county previously cut brush along the trail with brush hog.
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In a third road related issue, the road from Bluff into Cottonwood Wash may be closed at the request of private landowners.
The San Juan County Commission held a public hearing on September 19 to get input on the request.
The dirt road leading north from Bluff enters private land in South Cottonwood Canyon. The proposal to the Commission is to abandon the county claim to the road.
The road is popular with hikers in Bluff.
The road identified for possible closure includes approximately 250 feet of B Road, and nearly two miles of D Road that extends into the canyon.
Approximately 25 people attended the public hearing, and a handful spoke on the issue. In general, about three residents spoke in favor of the closure proposal and about five opposed the action.
The private property owner has stated that hikers may continue to walk along the road, but it will need to be with the landowner’s permission.
Commissioners took no action on the proposal and said they will continue to study the issue.