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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Governments in San Juan County are organizing a San Juan ATV Safari, which they hope will produce tourism dollars and which environmentalists fear will degrade archaeological and ecological resources.
The Bureau of Land Management has given preliminary approval to the event, which could mean 350 riders motoring across 500 miles of roads and trails on BLM and Forest Service lands.
The event, set for Sept. 25-27 and patterned after Richfield's ATV Jamboree, is intended to stimulate the economy of San Juan County.
"Our economy is really suffering right now," said Trent Schafer, Monticello city manager.
Environmental groups say the recreationists will be using trails that have been in dispute as to whether they are legitimate county roads.
"They would be utilizing frivolous San Juan County road claims in this event," said Herb McHarg, an attorney for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.
McHarg fears that the San Juan ATV Safari will be used to legitimize claims by the county that the trails are county roads under the county's authority.
Kim Burtenshaw, a Monticello city councilman, said one purpose behind the ATV Safari is to maintain control of trails the county believes should remain open indefinitely to motorized use.
SUWA has objected to about 125 miles of the routes in the ATV Safari. It contends those routes cross areas with fragile cultural, riparian and wilderness values.
For example, one of the routes is in Arch Canyon on Cedar Mesa, which is rich with ancient artifacts. One ATV Safari group would cross Arch Canyon Creek 118 times.
Many of the disputed routes are in areas inventoried by the BLM during the Clinton administration as having wilderness characteristics and which SUWA and other groups want protected as wilderness
Interim protection for those lands was withdrawn earlier this year in a controversial agreement between Gov. Mike Leavitt and Interior Secretary Gale Norton.
The environmental assessment BLM undertook for the safari notes that as a result of that agreement, it does not have to consider wilderness characteristics in those areas.
"Since the governor signed that memorandum, the inventoried areas are no more," Burtenshaw said.
Burtenshaw said organizers plan to minimize impacts by requiring ATV riders to stay on the trails. Each group size will be limited to about 20 people, with three guides to enforce compliance with the rules.
The event is being financed by $5,000 grants from Monticello, Blanding and San Juan County.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)