Apr 272005
 
Authors: Sarah Rawley

As students get ready for summer vacation in two weeks, the will have one less place to off-road.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) implemented an emergency ban on off-road recreational vehicles from 1800 acres of sand dunes and wilderness in southeastern Utah due to concerns of damaged vegetation and archaeological sites as of April 11.

"There were no designated trails through there, and people were doing donuts and destroying the cultural resources," said Robin Fehlau, outdoor recreation planner for the bureau.

Colorado's Bureau of Land Management Royal Gorge field office has about 1.8 million acres of land east of the continental divide. At this place there are similar regulations and restrictions on all terrain vehicles (ATVs) as in Utah.

"In our area all ATVs or any kind of motorized vehicle is limited to existing or designated trails," said Leah Quesenberry, outdoor recreation planner for the Royal Gorge field office.

The Royal Gorge field office is also presently in the midst of travel management planning. Eventually every trail and road on bureau's land in this field office will have a sign designating users for the area. This is estimated to take at least five years.

The Royal Gorge field office used to have open trails where people could ride anywhere.

"This changed in 1999 because we felt that the open designation wasn't compatible with protecting the resources," Quesenberry said.

Plenty of terrain is still available for recreational off-roaders in the Royal Gorge area, although it is all confined to designated trails and roads. A popular destination is Pinrose Commons, south of Colorado Springs, located north of Canyon City.

Quesenberry used to work for the Bureau of Land Management in Utah and has seen a significant difference in land use on the Front Range.

"In Colorado our population has grown at a phenomenal rate in the past 15 years. Our population tends to be an active population. Lands are almost accessible year round because they are the lower elevation land, so I see a continual amount of continual use," Quesenberry said.

Residents of the nearby town of Bluff, Utah had been petitioning the bureau for more than four years to close the area with concerns about damage to the landscape, soil, vegetation, archaeology and threat to tourism.

Lynell Schalk, president of the Bluff Landowner's Coalition, joined the effort when she moved to Bluff and said for the last three winters, motorcyclists and quad runners came in and dramatically scarred the hills.

"Our economy in Bluff is based on tourism, and most of the tourists come because of the spectacular beauty of the country," Schalk said.

The area in San Juan County possesses some of richest cultural artifacts, with over 100 archaeological sites per square mile in some areas, Schalk said.

Schalk, a former Bureau of Land Management officer who investigated sites in Oregon, Washington and California, worked in the area during the 1970s and has said that since then she has seen an increasing amount of damage to the landscape. There are areas now that are permanently damaged for generations to come.

The emergency orders are not designed to be permanent and within two years, the Monticello field office for the bureau will complete its new resource management plan that governs the bureau's regulation of public land usage.

"Under the existing plan, ATV's were allowed. But because the damage is occurring to sites, we wanted to protect it for this relatively short period of time," said Sandra Meirs, field manager of the Monticello office for the bureau.

The Bluff area encompasses sites over 2,000 years old that are not formally recorded. Schalk said that presently hikers and horseback riders outnumber all-terrain vehicle users, however in comparison their impact is minimal.

"There is one area up the dunes where there is more scarring from two motorcyclists than from decades of horseback riders on trails," Schalk said.

Current fines and consequences for riding in areas closed under federal notice are up to $1,000 and other penalties for damaging cultural resources.

Fehlau said that the bureau term "open" means the entire area is open to cross country travel, the term "limited" means users are confined to an existing or designated trail, and "closed" means closed.

Caleb Brown, a freshman mechanical engineer major, has been an avid off-road motorcyclist for the past two years. He believes public land should be equally open for all users.

"If one person like ATV's and one person likes riding bikes, why should it matter? Everyone should be able to enjoy the land for what it is," Brown said.

There are however plenty of alternatives for all-terrain vehicle drivers.

The Paiute Trail in central Utah has both desert and forest terrain, with over 2,000 miles of trails open to ATVs. San Raefael Swell, located about 1-2 hours from Grand Junction, the Little Sahara near Salt Lake City, Sand Mountain near St. George and Coral Pink Sand Dunes near Knab, Utah all have miles of trails open.

"The Monticello field office is right around 1.8 million acres. There is quite a bit considered open for off-road vehicles and thousands of miles country roads they can go on," Meirs said.

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