Protest over land access planned on Saturday
A peaceful protest is planned this weekend in Monticello and Blanding, culminating in a hike to Recapture Canyon. Sponsor of the event is SPEAR (San Juan Public Entry and Access Rights), a group of area residents who are concerned about the loss of access to public lands in the county.
The first protest will begin at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday, April 9 at the Southeast Utah Visitor Center in Monticello (Barn Museum). Organizers expect that a large number of local residents will participate in the event, which will travel north on Monticello’s Main Street to the district office of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
A second protest will begin at 1 p.m. at Clarks Market on south Main Street in Blanding. This group will travel to lower Recapture Canyon. Hikers will be able to walk two miles up the canyon on a trail that has been the focus of controversy.
Organizers encourage protesters to participate with Off-Highway Vehicles, including motorcycles, jeeps, four wheelers and other All-Terrain Vehicles. In addition, they encourage protesters to make signs.
Several events have occurred in recent months that have increased the concerns of local residents, including a $35,000 fine for two Blanding men who worked on an unauthorized trail on BLM ground in Recapture Canyon.
Daniel Lee Felstead, age 38, and Kenneth James Brown, age 67, were fined by Federal Magistrate Samuel Alba on January 21. The amount of the fine still shocks many local residents, who dismiss the impact of the work on a trail they say has existed for decades.
A BLM archaeologist estimated that the damage caused by the trail work totaled $350,000, including damage to archaeological resources. Judge Alba apparently took one tenth of the estimated damage in determining the amount of the fine.
In addition, the protest will focus on a number of roads that have been closed on US Forest Service and BLM lands.
SPEAR officials state that the US Forest Service is closing roads and access to favorite camping spots. Camping restrictions state that campers must be within 150 feet of open roads. The result, says SPEAR, is decreased access to public land.
SPEAR adds that the BLM has restricted access to roads throughout the county. San Juan County Commissioners have requested that area residents forward documentation of road closures.
“The BLM is throwing up road closure signs all over the place,” said a SPEAR official. “This protest is a way of coming together to present solidarity, to show that there are a lot of people who are concerned about these issues.”