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Residents near Bears Ears weigh in on possible national monument designation

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SAN JUAN COUNTY, Utah -- U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewel heard opinions from Utahns Saturday about a possible Bears Ears National Monument, and as Utahns await the outcome FOX 13 News’ Jeff McAdam spoke with residents nearby about their take on the issue.

A national monument designation could mean big crowds and, in turn, big money for towns like Blanding. But business before pleasure isn't a policy most shop owners here seem to agree with.

Blanding sits on the outskirts of the proposed 1.9 million acre area. The one-stoplight town could become even more of a tourist destination if a monument is created.

“Whether it's good for business or not, I think it should just be left alone,” Cory Elmore said.

Elmore works at the Stone Lizard Hotel, one of several hotels in Blanding. He said their spot has been around since the 1940s, and lately business has been good.

“This time of year, we fill up every night,” Elmore said.

He said the hotel benefits from its location already, sitting between Monument Valley and Arches National Monument.

“It's not really about business, this is our home, a lot of people’s lives are here,” he said.

His concerns echo the sentiment felt by many in the area. That 1.9 million acres of proposed land is a lot of space and may cut off or limit opportunities to gather wood and hunt on the land.

“Our economy is already as worse as it is, this will only make it worse,” one man who attended Saturday’s public meeting said.

Residents of another bordering town, Bluff, also voiced their concerns at the public meeting Saturday in front of Jewell. Some said they had doubts about the economic benefit as well, pointing out that many who are in favor of the national monument seem to be from other counties or even states.

“Go make stuff happen where you live, we'll take care of where we live,” one resident who shared that view said.

While some are opposed, there are also large numbers of folks supporting the proposal for a national monument. Others support another conservation plan put forth by Utah lawmakers called the Public Lands Initiative.

“Bears Ears has been Bears Ears for hundreds and hundreds of years before we were even here, the place is just fine, it doesn't need to be protected,” Elmore said.