Protesters ride ATVs through canyon despite ban, BLM officials document illegal activity

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BLANDING, Utah -- Some carried flags, others held signs, and more than a few were armed.

The message from these protestors was all the same: They want to reclaim Recapture Canyon for ATV use. They said it's public land and they are the public.

"I've been out in these canyons for a long time, and I rode in this canyon back before they closed it," Sharon Smith said. "It's a beautiful place. This is my wheel chair, and I want a chance to use it. I'm 70 years old. I’m disabled."

Smith was among the majority of protestors to ride the trail, which the Bureau of Land Management closed to the public in 2007.

“I think it is very unfortunate that a group of individuals, with pretty extreme ideology in my opinion, decided they need to break the law,” said Tim Wagner of the Sierra Club.

The BLM as well as other area environmentalists, like Wagner, said the canyon was closed to ATV use in order to protect 2,000 year old artifacts, including Native American burial sites.

“How would the residents of Blanding feel if someone wanted to blaze a trail right through the middle of their cemetery? You know, it's the same thing,” Wagner said.

Hiking and horseback riding is still permitted in the canyon.

“There is thousands and thousands of miles of ATV trails down in that area, lots of ATV trails in that part of the country, they can go just about anywhere they want to go,” Wagner said.

Malcom Lehi said there is a chance his heritage dates back to the canyon.

“I don't want anyone down in here, because of those sites, they are sacred sites,” Lehi said.

However, San Juan county commissioner Phill Lyman, who organized the protest, said he thinks there's a way both sides can come to a compromise.

"If you can show us how to redirect that route, we will have 300 volunteers out there with our shovels and we will work around any of the archeology," he said. "We'll do whatever it takes."

Ryan Bundy, whose family recently had their own highly publicized land dispute in Nevada, was also at the protest to show support.

“The Bureau of Land Management is taking un-rightful control of this land and the people are tired of it: They simply cannot put up with it any longer,” Bundy said.

There was also a high law enforcement presence at the protest.

“They didn’t want any conflict obviously, we didn’t want anything to take place like it did in Bunkerville Nevada," said San Juan Sheriff Rick Eldredge. "It was our goal to make sure we didn’t have a clash, and as the sheriff it was my responsibility to make sure that that stuff didn’t happen."

Eldredge said the protest was peaceful and there were no incidents.

There were a small number of BLM representatives at the protest, all wearing civilian clothes. According to their press release: “The BLM Law Enforcement presence focused on recording and documenting individuals who chose to violate the law by traveling into the closure area on ATV’s.”

The statement goes on to say, “The BLM will pursue all available redress through the legal system to hold the lawbreakers accountable.”


  • Chas Holman

    Dude, I lived in ST George for 20 years and have been in that EXACT spot maybe 3 dozen times. It is a VERY fragile area the LOCALS respect. I called mum for an early mothers day (92) and she says the whole area is rabid about these jerks down there. I’ve no reason to doubt her, one visit to the Deseret news or SLT Tribune shows what the locals think. Why don’t you go take a look, ask a local. The locals down there RESPECT that area. BIG TIME.

    • Cartman

      The LOCALS are NOT the only OWNERS. And the DIRT road is not FRAGILE. St. George has TOO many hippies.

  • Trent

    i can guarantee NOT ONE artifact was harmed or disturbed today. I have ridden this trail and it doesn’t go over any burials as everyone is saying. Unless you have some magical atv that can climb vertical cliffs then you wont be tearing up any ruins.

  • Diane

    You guys know they ride lawn mowers through most cemeteries all the time right? And trucks and backhoes too. I doubt anyone on this ride desecrated anything. And if it’s a thousand years old……whose to say your house isn’t parked on some individual who died.

  • Ephraim utebear

    Well just for your info the trails are on ute tribal land and its posted no trust passing, so that’s why us Ute people don’t want none native on our land it’s not dis respect to other we just want to keep our land sacred..

  • LouisM

    I have to throw a dare to those riders.
    I DARE THEM to TRY the same thing @ AREA 51 in NEVADA. Almost the entire State is own by the feds, lets see what happen then

  • Robert Dale Butler

    These lands belong to the people of the United States not only to the local residents that utilize these resources. Folks making verbal attacks against the BLM and the Forest Service that are managing these lands on behalf of all of us, are only self-serving individuals and groups interested in themselves and the “me” syndrome. Legislation inplace by “your” elected officials mandates the actions that BLM and FS must take to protect these resources from “folks” who would harm these timeless treasures that is apart of the history for “all” of us. There is a mentality among a great many within the ATV community that “we go where we want, when we want, and now with the development of side by sides, many trails have to be developed to accomodate them. Recreational vehicles and practices change…but the policies for there use must catch up due to the type of impact on the resources. And this can take time to ascertain…ever heard of NEPA?
    People need to educate themselves about what these “user” trails do to the landscape and to the resources. Many within the public totally ignore FS Travel PLans and public input, which lay out the use of the various trails by different user populations, Ever hiked a trail only to have a mountain bike come ripping by. Or tried to hike a trail only to eat dust and dirt, and the noise from ATV’s. Especially the locals who feel they are more “entitled” than the rest of us. In case you dont know, damaging an archaeological site (especially federal) is at a minimum….3rd degree felony! There are avenues for reviewing travel plans and making recommendations..and the forest service reviews travel plans every five years.
    Legislation in place to protect these resources is there just for reasons like this. Anyone leading and conspiring to damage cultural resources belonging to the people of the US should be prosecuted for the criminal act it is. ATVers…get your act together…before you create adverse reactions to your destruction!!

    • Finny Wiggen

      No offense, but after reading your comment, the only one who sounds like they feel “more entitled than everyone else…” is you.

      You sound like an ornery old man, who doesn’t want others to walk on the grass, or who is so set in his ways, that he thinks his way is the only right way.


      “Eating dust… Ripping past…”

      You will find that life is much brighter when you embrace and celebrate others, and not be so eager to diminish them because they do something differently than yourself.

      When walking down a trail, admire the skill of the mountain biker. Point out to your companion or children how amazing that jump they just did was.

      Smile and wave to the people on the ATVs.

      Or continue being a curmudgeon…

      • Cartman

        He’s right. There is no such thing as “BLM land.” It’s not Constitutionally authorized. And therefore forbidden under the 10th Amendment.

        Military reservations and Washington D.C. are specific exceptions because the Fed is not allowed to own the physical land within any State.

        Funny how the BLM only owns the land WEST of the Mississippi…..

      • Finny Wiggen

        That is all well and good. I am not disagreeing with you. However, the way to work through these issues is within the framework of the Constitution.

        If you try to protect the Constitution by going around the very provisions you aim to secure, you only undercut your own efforts.

  • Finny Wiggen

    Both sides of this argument are in the wrong, and quite honestly, childish.

    There is no reason to close a canyon down to public access via ATV simply because it once had burials in it. It is odd that the same people who often do not believe in a God, are using a term like “sacred…” Past usage does not make inanimate land “sacred.”

    As far as archaeological sites being present, it is, as has been pointed out, easy to route trails around these.

    Those involved in the protest are equally in the wrong, and just as extreme in their views however.

    We live in a land of laws and order. Our freedoms are built and based on the principal that the laws apply to everyone. It goes without saying that in any system where there are rules, some of the rules will be stupid.

    This however does not relieve us of our obligation to follow stupid rules. Civil disobedience is only appropriate when the rules require us to do something immoral or unethical.

    To use civil disobedience solely for something so trivial as the right to use a trail, is to trivialize civil disobedience, and our own cause.

    If you don’t like a rule, you work within the system to change it. If you decide to exempt yourself from following it, then you introduce anarchy into the system, and you are no friend to liberty.

  • Trent

    Finny the problem here is the county has tried for 8 years to work with the system so called the blm. When the trail was first shut down they said it was a temporary closure. 8 years later it’s still closed. The county has worked with the blm in good faith with nothing in return.

  • laytonian

    All I see is a bunch of entitled thugs trying to show off their manhood.
    Ask the citizens of Mesquite how they like the Medicare Militia running rampant through their town. Even small children are asking the mayor about the problem.
    Then the thuggish Bundy son dares show up as a “symbol”. (Of course, the Bundy family only settled in Nevada in 1946…not the 1870s like they lied about.)

    The sooner people get wise and start protecting our heritage, the better.

  • Cartman

    They rode on an existing DIRT ROAD that’s still in good shape precisely because it’s NOT “delicate.”

    The archeological site in question is high on the canyon wall, and is not accessible to motorized vehicles. The “illegal trail” leading to it was cut by people HIKING to the ruins on foot. As they have continued to do, whether the road is closed to ATVs or not.

    99.9% of the people who oppose ATV use in that canyon can’t find it on a map, and certainly never plan to hike in it. Why should our public land be reserved for the use of the 0.1%?

    Lastly, as public land it’s under the jurisdiction of the STATE, not the Feds.

  • Dexter W.

    . Trent how do you know if you’re not riding on any burials or artifacts? Do you have a majic burial wand that can detect the sites. If so issue the majic wand to the BLM so they can mark the sites then maybe they’ll open up the trails.

  • Mark Snuff

    A bunch of anti-gubmint bullies with guns trying to claim they have the right to drive where ever they want on public lands. If anyone can drive on them than they should be OK with letting anyone drive their vehicle wherever and whenever they want. No? You say you bought that with you’re own money but we all pay for lands with taxes? OK, well I have just as much ownership to that land as you, and I don’t want to see ATV’s on it. Can’t walk it? Tough luck, deal with it. I can’t play sports at a professional level but you don’t see me demanding play-time during the super bowl. There are thousands of miles already open to ATVs in terrain similar to this. Do you just hate the BLM or authority in general?If anarchy if your way, I’m sure Clive Bundy has some cows he’d love to let graze on your lawn without paying you for. Who needs laws, right?

  • Steven Willaims

    What about Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act , an individual may not be denied participation in a federal program that is open to all other people.
    This is from the National Forest System Manual
    Nothing in these guidelines permits the use of a motor vehicle on a National Forest System trail that is not designated for motor vehicle use. To prevent motor use on non-motorized trails, gates, rocks, berms, posts, or other restrictive devices may be placed at a trailhead. However, under Section 504, an individual may not be denied participation in a federal program that is open to all other people. Thus, when foot travel is encouraged beyond a restrictive device, as it is at a trailhead, at least 32 inches of clear passage must be provided around or through the device to ensure that a person who uses a wheelchair can use the trail beyond the restriction. A 32-inch minimum width has been deemed sufficient because it is the minimum width required for a door under the ABAAS. Where foot travel is not encouraged but is permitted beyond a restrictive device, if a disabled individual expresses a need to access the area beyond the restrictive device, the administrative unit must work with that individual to provide access around the restriction. If a trail beyond a restrictive device does not meet the criteria for the FSTAG to apply, there is no requirement to make that trail accessible simply because there is clear passage of 32 inches around or through the device.

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