More than 200 people began the day by gathering for a rally at Centennial Park in Blanding.
About a dozen speakers addressed the crowd while expressing a variety of concerns. A common thread was frustration with the federal government, particularly with the “heavy-handed treatment of local issues” by the Bureau of Land Management.
Lyman called for the ATV ride after a February meeting with a number of Blanding residents. The intent was for a peaceful protest of the 2007 closure of the canyon to motorized vehicles and the years of delay in processing a Title V request from San Juan County to assume responsibility for the canyon.
The rally and ride were peaceful, but there were some tense moments throughout the day.
At the rally, Lyman outlined the history of the issue, including the historic pioneer trail that runs through the canyon. He also shared his support for a protest.
Lyman then told the group, “I have no moral problem with crossing the line” but added that it will “do more harm than good to actually cross that line today.”
He said that instead of taking the group through the bottom of the canyon, he would take them across the top of the rim, along trails that were not closed to motorized traffic.
The announcement was not popular among some members of the crowd.
A number of protesters from beyond the boundaries of San Juan County were involved in the rally, including militiamen and Ryan Bundy, a son of Cliven Bundy.
Bundy expressed frustration with Lyman’s announcement and said, “I came here to open a canyon. If we don’t do that, then I am going home.”
Stefnee Turk, who was instrumental in the creation of the San Juan Alliance, said that the ride was intended as “a peaceful ride, and a peaceful protest.”
Turk asked that protesters be respectful and responsible and added a reminder that the consequences of the day’s actions would “fall on the people of this community.” Turk said, “Violence, intimidation and bullying is not our intent.”
Later in the rally, Lyman was challenged again on his intent to avoid the canyon bottom. He added, “This is not wimping out. I think it is an intelligent action.”
When a protester shouted, “Stop the language of weakness,!” Lyman responded, “I know the people of this community, I know what they can accomplish. This is not the language of weakness.”
Mike Swenson, of the Utah Shared Access Alliance, took the microphone and said, “Phil is going to make a decision and we are going to support him. A violent altercation is not going to help us.”
The majority of the people at the rally cheered Swenson’s statement and the rally came to a close.
After the rally, dozens of people participated in ride along the canyon rim and down a maintenance road in the canyon bottom.
Approximately 32 vehicles went through a closed section of more primitive road in the canyon bottom.
The BLM has announced that they were monitoring the ride and would seek legal action against those who rode on closed areas.