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Speak up for the San Rafael Swell

Speak up for the San Rafael Swell

(Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance)


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Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

The San Rafael Swell is a spectacular and beloved Utah landscape. A relatively short trip from the Wasatch Front, the Swell offers visitors a chance to trade the sights and sounds of the city for colorful sunsets over towering rock spires and quiet nights underneath star-filled skies.

Its winding canyons, red rock cliffs, and prominent buttes provide endless opportunities for hiking, camping, canyoneering, or simply spending time outside with family and friends.

Home to irreplaceable cultural and historic sites, stunning geology, and countless opportunities to explore, the Swell provides a welcome escape for Utahns. Even the names of its prominent landmarks — places like Little Grand Canyon, Temple Mountain, or Hidden Splendor — evoke the magic of this rugged landscape.

The future of this remarkable place hangs in the balance as the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) develops a new travel management plan for the San Rafael Swell. This plan will determine where off-road vehicles are allowed to travel on more than a million acres of public land for decades to come.

A plan that strikes a thoughtful balance between motorized and non-motorized recreation in the Swell is urgently needed. The use of off-road vehicles in Utah — including all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), dirt bikes, and utility task vehicles (UTVs) — has skyrocketed in the last decade, and these new vehicles are faster and louder than ever before, reaching farther and deeper into the backcountry.

While these machines provide outdoor recreation for some, they also have a big impact on the land and other recreationists. Off-road vehicles can damage streams and generate dust. They also have the potential to damage cultural sites. And they create tremendous noise (many times you can hear them coming well before they appear).

Because of the potential harm motorized vehicles can inflict to the wilderness landscape, it's critical that off-road vehicle use is carefully managed and reasonably controlled.

Speak up for the San Rafael Swell
Photo: Zack Frank/Shutterstock.com

Unfortunately, for decades, the BLM prioritized off-road vehicle use at the expense of cultural and natural resources. That failure, coupled with difficulty of enforcing existing travel plans, led to significant damage – which you've likely seen if you've visited the Swell in recent years. Off-road vehicles are driving deeper into remote locations, often creating new routes through fragile soils and desert streams, and making it difficult to escape the sight and sound of these vehicles.

Recently the BLM finally started to grapple with the overwhelming presence of off-road vehicles by trying to balance motorized and non-motorized use. For example, a BLM plan finalized in 2023 for the Labyrinth Canyon and Gemini Bridges area near Moab will help protect cultural sites, riparian habitat, and the experience of non-motorized recreationists while still allowing for motorized recreation on more than 800 miles of dirt trails and routes.

Despite this progress, the BLM is under extraordinary and unrelenting pressure to expand off-road vehicle use. The agency is considering several proposals that would significantly increase the number and mileage of off-road vehicle routes in the Swell, regardless of the damage and impacts to other users.

With a landscape as treasured as the Swell, it's critical that the BLM ensures access to trailheads, scenic overlooks, and recreational opportunities, while also protecting the very reason people want to visit such remote places in the first place: to enjoy the unspoiled beauty of Utah's public lands.

For more information and to submit your public comments on the San Rafael Swell travel plan, click here. Comments are due July 22, 2024. Speak up for the Swell!

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Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance

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