Seven years after the emergency closure of Recapture Canyon by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the San Juan County Commission has decided to pursue legal action.
On June 2, the Commission voted 2-1 to sue the BLM for the lack of decision regarding Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) access in the canyon.
Commissioner Phil Lyman brought the resolution in the May 27 Commission meeting, but the commission decided to refine the wording of the resolution before passing it.
Commissioners Lyman and Bruce Adams supported the resolution, with Commissioner Kenneth Maryboy opposed.
Commissioner Adams said Recapture Canyon represents the headaches of federal land issues in the county.
“(The current method) is not working,” said Adams. “It’s broken; we want it fixed. We’ve got to stand up to the process. We represent a large amount of people. We think that those people are telling us that the process isn’t acceptable.”
The five-page document states, in part, “San Juan County asserts jurisdiction over the public-right-of-way roads and trails in San Juan County, including Recapture Trail, and that even after the issuance of BLM IM 2010-028, (which closed the trail) the BLM failed to resolve the closure in a timely manner as required, making the emergency closure void.”
In 2007, the BLM announced an emergency closure of access to a 12-mile OHV trail located in the canyon, east of Blanding.
Commissioners state that the emergency closure came without warning or public discussion.
The trail was closed to protect Native American artifacts that are found along the canyon. BLM archeologists and managers concluded at the time that the ATV’s posed a risk to artifacts in the canyon.
In an effort to gain control of, and responsibility over, the trail, the county filed for a Title V right of way with the BLM. The application, if approved, would grant San Juan County sole control of the trail.
Over the subsequent years, the BLM has not made a decision on the Title V application. The lack of decision has frustrated many county residents.
The frustration reached an apex in May, when Lyman led a group of more than 50 OHV’s in protest along part of the trail. Lyman said the protest and resolution are symbolic of the real issue at hand.
Commissioner Kenneth Maryboy, voting against the resolution, took issue with the potential of OHV damage to Native American archeological sites located within the canyon.
“A burial spot should be quiet,” said Maryboy, citing remains found in the southern end of the trail. “This is a very sensitive issue and without further input from Native Americans, I can’t support it.”
The area covered by the Recapture Canyon trail includes possible burial sites in the southern half of the trail. Several years ago, the county withdrew the Title V request for seven miles of the canyon in part as recognition of the possible burial sites.
In order to protect and maintain archeological artifacts and cliff dwellings in Recapture Canyon, Lyman said, “I believe that in some parts the trail should be re-routed.” That sentiment is also expressed in the resolution.
Adams and Lyman expressed respect for Maryboy’s position on the matter. They expressed that frustration with the BLM does not interfere with the county’s desire to protect Native American cultural history.
Before the resolution passed, provisions were made to include in the resolution a land dispute involving Indian Creek.
In other matters at the June 2 meeting, Heather Howell was hired as the La Sal Senior Center Aide and Marty Shupe was hired as San Juan County Deputy Treasurer. Shupe is one of 13 applicants for the position.