Political Battle Erupts Over S. Utah Landmark

Political Battle Erupts Over S. Utah Landmark

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John Hollenhorst reporting A new battleground has opened in the growing conflict between nature lovers and motorized recreationists.

An environmental group, backed by a few residents and businesses in Wayne County, has petitioned for emergency closure of one of the West's most unusual landscapes.

With the number of off-road-vehicles exploding, the unique area around Factory Butte has taken center-stage in the conflict. Both sides are watching to see if the government will step in and impose tight restrictions, or simply let riders have their way?

A striking picture by Tom Till captures the ethereal otherworldly beauty of Factory Butte. And it highlights the rugged surrounding terrain that makes this battleground important to both sides.

It's a vast open-air funhouse for motor enthusiasts.

Paul Mortensen/ Attorney for Motor Groups: "It's considered the Matterhorn of riding. People will come from all over the west to ride there."

Mark Bosshardt/ Redmond Resident: "Because it's fun. We enjoy it. Get out. Play. Relax."

But the same barren landscape is treasured by scenery lovers who like to see wild land unspoiled by machines.

Randy Ramsley/ Caineville Farmer: "Well, we've seen increasing damage over the last ten years. And increasing every day."

The area is famous for its strange, alien look. In fact, members of the Mars Society in training have used it as a stand-in for Mars.

Riders say it's hard to imagine a place where their sport would do less damage.

Riley Robinson/ Salina Resident: "We're not hurting anything out here. There're no bushes or grass that can grow for any animal or what-not."

But critics say the motorized fun kicks up huge dust clouds.

Margi Hoffmann/ Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance: "The fact of the matter is, it's a health issue. There are heavy metals in this soil."

They claim it's triggering massive erosion, four times the normal rate.

And they say it's marring the dramatic landscape with a spaghetti of ugly scars. The counterclaim from riders is that the tracks quickly erode away.

Paul Mortensen/ Attorney for Motor Groups: "What you have there, you do have massive erosion at all times. I mean, that's the nature of the place. It would be going on if man had never shown up here. It would be going on regardless. That's why we feel it's such an appropriate place, because it is barren and it is perfect for this type of activity."

Randy Ramsley/ Caineville Farmer: "The tracks of the off-road-vehicles are permanent. I've been watching the same tracks on the same hills for ten years."

The petition for emergency closure would restrict vehicles to designated roads and to one specified extreme-riding area. Riders say it's an attempt to confiscate one of their favorite areas The BLM had the issue under study, even before the petition was filed.

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