BLANDING, Utah and WASHINGTON, D.C. – The federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is considering a Utah county’s proposal to designate Recapture Canyon an official motorized route, raising protests because the seven-mile ATV trail there was cut illegally and damaged ancient Native American cooking structures, rock walls and other priceless artifacts.
In January 2011 a federal magistrate levied a $35,000 fine against the two men who built the trail in 2005. Just days after the fine, officials in San Juan County asked that the trail be deemed legal, arguing it could promote economic development in nearby Blanding and reduce the threat of more illegal trails.
"It would provide a much-needed, well-signed series of routes, thus reducing the proliferation of trails created by users trying to find a travel route," county officials said in a right-of-way application filed in late 2012.
Archaeologists, conservation groups and the Hopi Tribe oppose the plan on the grounds it would reward rogue trailbuilders and increase the risk of vandalism in an area now accessible only by foot or horse.
BLM shut down the trail in 2007 to prevent further damage. Months later, a report it commissioned found the trail builders had caused more than $300,000 in archaeological damage that would cost the agency more than $90,000 to restore and repair, according to Environment & Energy Daily.
Now BLM has wrapped up a month-long public comment period and this spring is expected to release an environmental assessment on a proposed 14-mile trail that would extend the illegally cut trail.
Federal authorities estimate 90 percent of sacred sites in the Four Corners area have already been plundered. In San Juan, experts estimate looters have raided most of the county's 28,000 known archaeological sites.
BLM in 2008 issued a resource management plan barring future ATV use in the canyon, while allowing 2,820 miles for motorized recreation elsewhere. Critics of the Recapture trail say there are ample places for motorized recreation in San Juan.
Posted by Holly Wagner