While my office is in Provo UT, this last weekend I was working in southeastern UT and traveling in a government vehicle. Because of recent activities across the state border in Nevada and an incident that occurred near Mills UT, on Thursday (8 May 2014) the following message was issued by our Regional Office in Salt Lake City:
This incident [the one near Mills] underscores the need for all employees traveling in government vehicles to take precautions while traveling and remain vigilant. [Our employees are] consistently confused with BLM and there is increased risk that our employees will be caught up in a violent act stemming from the recent “cattle battle” in Nevada.
Employees are advised to travel in pairs, and exercise caution while in travel status or when going to or from work.
By 10 am on Saturday, I had finished my work in Bluff UT and headed north toward home. I had forgotten about the “illegal” ATV ride/demonstration planned for Recapture Canyon (east of Blanding) that day. As I approached Blanding, a big gathering in city’s Centennial Park was just breaking up, and ATV riders were headed north toward the canyon. Many of the off-road vehicles were adorned with American and “Don’t tread on me” flags.
According to the sltrib.com:
The ATV protest attracted out-of-state activists eager to denounce federal authority over public lands. Some came decked in military camouflage and sidearms slung on their thighs. Militiamen approached by The Tribune declined to be interviewed.
Three ATVs riders ended up behind me on the highway as it passes through Blanding City. Since I was in a government vehicle, I wondered if I would cause a stir; but I did not. No hostile actions, no one flipped me off. Just north of Blanding is Recapture Reservoir and an entry to Recapture Canyon. There were two sheriff’s trucks positioned there. Apparently to keep the peace, and not necessarily to protect the canyon.
The section of Recapture Canyon in contention is currently off limits to motorized vehicles, the reason being its archaeological significance. Most of the protesters took their ATVs through only 1.5 miles of the canyon, but some went farther.
The issues surrounding Recapture Canyon will never be resolved to everyone satisfaction. Some of the protesters argued that there is no such thing as federal land. While environmentalists and many Native Americans argue for increased protection of sensitive areas. Clearly the gulf here is insurmountable.
What I don’t get is: there are plenty of areas to ride ATVs in the Blanding area. Why this fight? Do they really want this bad publicity? Ironically, Blanding bills itself as the “Gateway to Adventure.” And all of this madness doesn’t help their image any.
Additionally, their hotels are almost all second class (when I have to stay in Blanding, I stay at the Stone Lizard Lodge), there is not a good place to eat, and finding breakfast is almost impossible. I asked a local businessman why he didn’t open a restaurant in Blanding and he told me it is because the city is dry (and implied there were also other factors).
I think Blanding City enjoys its reputation as a pariah. Whether its citizens are pot hunting or desecrating public lands or refusing to sell water to the neighboring Navajo community of Westwater. Luckily for environmentalists, the bad behavior by Blanding area citizens only makes the case for further environmental protection stronger.