Petition Filed to Ban Vehicles in Arch Canyon, Near Blanding

Petition Filed to Ban Vehicles in Arch Canyon, Near Blanding

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John Hollenhorst ReportingA coalition of Native Americans, business owners and environmentalists filed a petition today demanding a vehicle ban in Arch Canyon near Blanding. You can expect a big fight over this, possibly even from state government.

Petition Filed to Ban Vehicles in Arch Canyon, Near Blanding

County officials claim they control the road. They want open access. And the county official most embroiled in the fight is now the Governor's top man on public land policy.

Arch Canyon has been a popular venue over the years for the annual Jeep Jamboree. But in 2004 federal officials refused a permit pending environmental studies. Jeep drivers went on an unofficial convoy led by San Juan County Commission Chairman Lynn Stevens.

Lynn Stevens, San Juan County Commission Chairman, April 2004: "The statement is, this is a San Juan county road and anybody in the united states is free to travel it anytime they wish."

Almost three years later, Stevens is Governor Huntsman's Public Land Policy Coordinator. We reached him by phone in Blanding, a few miles from Arch Canyon, still vowing to fight for vehicle access.

Lynn Stevens, on the phone: "Legally, because it's a county road, it's been open to the public for more than 50 years. I personally went up there in the mid-50's."

Since 1989, environmentalists have been trying to keep vehicles out. Their new petition says the B.L.M. has the authority and duty, to ban them.

Scott Groene, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance: "The BLM has done a terrible job of managing this canyon. They've allowed it to be over-run with off-road vehicles and jeeps in a way that has smashed down streamside vegetation, led to pollution of the water."

They say Arch Canyon is rich with Ancient Pueblo archaeological sites that need protection.

Scott Groene: "There's been both deliberate and inadvertent damage to the archaeological sites, partially because of access by off-road vehicles. There have been walls that have been knocked down. There have been pieces of pottery shards that have been looted out of the area at this point."

Stevens says vehicle riders have to get out and walk to archaeological sites.

Lynn Stevens, on the phone: "And I don't see how an ATV creates any greater danger to archaeology than hikers."

Both sides are willing to fight it out in court.

Scott Groene: "If the BLM didn't take responsible steps after this petition, the only alternative for the public then would be litigation."

Lynn Stevens, on the phone: "The county and the state of Utah combined will do battle to the very end of a final decision."

BLM officials received the petition today and they're trying to assess the legal process they'll use to consider it.

They say they're facing similar vehicle issues throughout the region, and they welcome public input in long-term planning.

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