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Utah off-road rally revs in river

May 11, 2009 |  7:03 pm


The seemingly endless back-and-forth regarding who controls the roads and trails in southern Utah's Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument boiled up again last weekend with a well-publicized act of public disobedience.

Egged on by local elected officials who proclaimed "We're mad as hell," more than 200 people rode motorcycles and off-road vehicles up and down the middle of the Paria River on Saturday, in flagrant violation of monument regulations.

The protesters are angry with almost everything about the monument, but specifically a ruling last month from the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals that rejected Kane County's assertion that it owned many of the roads and cow paths in the 1.9-million-acre monument, which is operated by the federal Bureau of Land Management. The court upheld the agency's transportation plan, which does not allow motorized recreation in the river.

According to BLM spokesman Larry Crutchfield, the off-roaders were met by competing protesters who sat in beach chairs arrayed along the riverbanks holding signs admonishing the rebel riders to respect the law. Despite a long history of rancor on both sides of the debate, there were no reported incidents.

The BLM was criticized for allowing the scofflaws to flout the rules with impunity. Crutchfield said he was on hand to give maps of legal OHV trails to all the participants, adding that monument officials were launching a campaign to inform the public about Grand Staircase's transportation policy. Though county sheriff's deputies monitored activities at the river, Crutchfield said officials were careful not to inflame an already tense situation.

Even though there are nearly 1,000 miles of roads and more than 500 miles of off-roading trails in the monument, the protesters were drawing attention to what they and others say are historic roads and traditional routes that ought to be open to recreational riding. The court case, however, disallowed that claim.  

Some locals in Kane and Garfield counties are still sore about President Clinton's 1996 decision to designate Grand Staircase-Escalante a national monument, affording it special protections. Local and state officials complained that the decision was made without local input, and the lingering anti-government sentiment has ensured that anger and lawsuits accompany nearly every decision made by monument officials.
 -- Julie Cart

Photo: ATV riders on the Paria River bed Saturday. Credit: Scott Sommerdorf / Salt Lake Tribune