A small land-access drama is playing out in Utah right now, in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. A (very) long story short — the Paria Canyon area within the Monument had a town in the late 1800s, which had a half-dirt road, half-path through a canyon riverbed leading up to it. Off-Road Vehicle types used to use this old route while the Bureau of Land Management sat idly by. In 1996, President Clinton declared the area a National Monument, and officially closed Paria Canyon to motorized traffic. Bush got into office, and significantly relaxed environmental protections, allowing the off-roaders to tear through the canyon’s riverbed for 8 years. Obama got into office, and the now-effectual Secretary of the Interior decided to actually enforce the wilderness laws that would protect the route. The locals get mad and file a lawsuit, which does not go in their favor. The locals get mad and, egged on by their local Congressman, host a faux-teaparty style protest, leading a large group of ORV’s down the canyon in full-view of counter-protesters and BLM officials because, you know, America and freedom and the flag and stuff.
What they didn’t know was that that while they were tearing up the riverbed, people were busy taking pictures of all of the vehicles’ license plates, which were submitted to the U.S. District Attorney’s Office yesterday afternoon. Now they’re all upset because they might get in trouble, what with the flagrant violation of the law and overwhelming evidence.
ORV drivers claim the road belongs to the local government, and they have a right to travel on it in vehicles. Opponents say the ORV’s cause irreparable damage to the land, and they should stay on some of the 600 miles of road in the Monument that are authorized for vehicular traffic.
I don’t think you need to think very long to figure out where I stand on this issue.
Look, I know that someday down the road, I’m going to get old and my knees aren’t going to work as well as they used to, and I probably won’t be able to do epic backpacking trips anymore. I’m still going to want to get into nature to enjoy it, but you know what? I’m going to lighten my load and slow my pace. I will never, ever, ever be caught doing this:
Why? Because being out in nature has taught me to enjoy and respect it – not want to cut tire treds into it. And while I wouldn’t mind banning off-road vehicles from natural areas, I think it’s fine if you want to use them for now – as long as you stay in your designated areas. If you want to enjoy a natural area that hasn’t been tore up by off-roaders, get out from behind the wheel and take a hike, for crying out loud! Stop trying to just ride wherever you want, regardless of the law, and stop trying to get new roads built in National Parks, too.
Images by Wildlands CPR, who has a great set of pics from the illegal ride.