The decision comes approximately one decade after a “temporary” closure restricted motorized traffic on 1,871 acres of public land in the canyon, which is adjacent to the City of Blanding.
The controversial closure, and subsequent protests, turned the peaceful canyon into a flash point over the frustration of local residents with the federal management of public lands.
While Zinke hailed the decision as a victory for recreationists, it was a compromise decision that rejected a San Juan County request for a right-of-way in the canyon.
The BLM identified a range of options, with five distinct options considered and a decision that took elements from several of the options.
The travel management plan includes nearly seven miles of all-terrain vehicle (ATV) and/or traditional vehicle access to the area, while protecting important archaeological sites and natural resources.
The BLM approved the use of a system of trails at the north end of the canyon near Recapture Dam and above the canyon on the west rim for ATV and full-size vehicle use.
A total of 6.8 miles of motorized trail has been designated, including 5.6 miles specifically for ATVs and 1.2 miles to accommodate full-size vehicles.
Motorized access is restricted through the major portion of the canyon bottom, with access available on the northern portion of the canyon along the existing water conservancy pipeline right-of-way.
Motorized access was approved on nine of the ten trail segments that were considered.
Three trailheads will be constructed, including the Lems Draw Trailhead, the Canyon Bottom Trailhead and the Browns Canyon Trailhead. The trailheads would consist of parking and staging areas where people, vehicles, equipment, and material may assemble for trail use.
Authorized trailhead development includes toilets, tables, benches, and kiosks which would provide trail maps, along with informational and interpretive material, and educational material on archeological site etiquette, as well as restrictions on the collection of paleontological material.
This decision will allow the San Juan County Water Conservancy District to continue to use the pipeline access road for maintenance of the pipeline.
Secretary Zinke said, “Allowing ATVs and other vehicles in Recapture Canyon will open up opportunities for people to enjoy our public lands while still protecting the cultural and natural resources that make the place special. On my first day in office I prioritized public lands access; I’m happy to continue that mission.”
Recapture Canyon is home to cliff dwellings of the ancient Pueblo peoples that were built more than 800 years ago. These archaeological sites and related artifacts are essential to understanding the story of the earliest inhabitants of the American Southwest.
Additionally, Recapture Canyon contains important habitat for animals, including sensitive riparian areas for the endangered Southwestern willow flycatcher and crucial winter range for mule deer and Rocky Mountain elk.