On May 10, seven years after the Bureau of Land Management closed Recapture Canyon to motorized vehicles, the sound of engines once again echoed off the canyon walls. Approximately 54 motorized vehicles, mostly All-Terrain Vehicles, made their way past the BLM closure sign in protest to the 2007 emergency closure of the canyon to motorized vehicles.
The ride started at the north end of Recapture Canyon, near the dam for Recapture Reservoir, on a maintenance road for the reservoir’s pipeline.
The road goes on for approximately one mile until the BLM closure sign, which marks the closure border, becomes visible. The maintenance road continues for another mile before it clearly ends and a more primitive trail begins.
At the BLM closure sign, the 54 vehicles continued down the maintenance road, led by a group including San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman.
After arriving at the end of the maintenance road, the group stopped for several minutes before 32 of the ATVs continued down the more primitive path. They rode through the north end of the canyon and came back into Blanding near the Browns Canyon road.
Some riders were confused as to the location of the official closure boundary line. At the rally preceding the ride, Commissioner Lyman stated that he did not plan to “cross the line” on the closed part of the trail.
Lyman did ride the one mile past the closure sign but not into the more primitive trail. Some riders assumed that the BLM’s boundary line was where the maintenance road ended and the underdeveloped trail began.
BLM District Manager Lance Porter said that the BLM saw no ambiguity into the location of the closure boundary line.
“The boundary was clearly identified on maps, on the closure notice and at the sign,” said Porter.
“The San Juan Water Conservency has a BLM right-of-way that allows for pipeline inspection and repair only,” said Porter.
As a result, Porter said that any motorized vehicles beyond the sign were violating the closure order.
The 32 ATVs that continued down the primitive path ignored Lyman’s request at the rally to not go down the trail.
Although he disagreed with their decisions, Lyman later said of those who went down the primitive trail, “I respect the feelings they have about the spirit of protest.”
The remaining protestors, who did not continue down the trail, turned back and came out the same way they had come in.
Not all protestors rode off-highway vehicles down the trail. The path is open to hikers and those on horseback, and some chose to protest by riding horses or walking.
In addition, San Juan County Sheriff Rick Eldredge and his deputies were on horses alongside the trail. The Sheriff said that he was there to maintain the peace. He added that any citations or arrests would be by the BLM since it was the agency that closed the trail to motorized vehicles.
The protest did not reach conflict or violence in any way, which is what the Sheriff hoped for.
In addition to the protesters and law enforcement, a large number of media and other observers attended the ride.
The BLM later stated that they were monitoring the ride with plain-clothed officers.
Some had worried that the invitation to protest the federal government might bring in violent anti-government protesters and militia. These worries arose due to the BLM protesters that came to Bundy Ranch earlier in the year near Bunkerville, Nevada.
Ryan Bundy, son of Nevada ranch owner Cliven Bundy, attend the rally and ride and took his ATV into the canyon. Other, non-local, protesters joined him. Approximately one half of the protesters who entered the more p[rimitive portion of the trail were local residents.
Protesters that gathered to Blanding included those from Illinois, Nevada, Washington and Montana.
Noticeably absent are the protest were vocal environmental groups. Their lack of presence helped avoid conflict between the two groups.
The BLM did not confront the riders, but instead the BLM had workers stand off the trail and document the ATV riders. The workers were not in uniform.
In an official statement, BLM Utah State Director Juan Palma said “The BLM will pursue all available redress through the legal system to hold the lawbreakers accountable.”
Of the protest Lyman said, “Overall, it was peaceful, no one was hurt. Hopefully it is productive.”