The Glen Canyon National Recreation Area (GCNRA) encompasses 1.25 million acres and includes some of southern Utah’s most remote and exceptional landscapes. It is a splendid place ringed by splendor: Canyonlands and Capitol Reef National Parks, the Vermilion Cliffs and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments, BLM-managed wilderness-quality lands, and the Navajo Nation.
Although Lake Powell is the most visited feature of the GCNRA, the remaining 87 percent of this area is largely undeveloped, containing pre-historic cultural sites, wildlife habitat, and outstanding opportunities for a pure wilderness experience. In fact, the National Park Service has recommended nearly half the lands within the GCNRA for wilderness designation.
This makes it all the more surprising that the NPS is proposing to legitimize and expand existing, unauthorized off-road vehicle (ORV) use within the GCNRA in its draft ORV plan. The proposal includes the use of street-legal ATVs on all paved routes, all types of ORVs on all dirt routes in the GCNRA (except in the Orange Cliffs), and ORV use on several additional designated routes. In contrast, adjacent Canyonlands and Capitol Reef National Parks prohibit the use of ORVs (including street-legal ATVs) precisely to protect these areas’ natural and cultural resources.
We understand that Glen Canyon is a recreation area and not a park, but “recreation” is not a synonym for “free-for-all.” Rules apply to recreation areas, too. Congress designated the GCNRA not only for “public outdoor recreation use and enjoyment” but also to “. . . preserve the scenic, scientific, and historic features contributing to public enjoyment of the area . . .”
Protect Resources, Minimize Conflicts
Before authorizing ORV use on routes or in “open play areas” within the GCNRA, the Park Service must comply with the requirements of President Richard Nixon’s 1972 Executive Order 11644. That order charges federal land managers with protecting natural resources from ORV impacts and minimizing conflicts among the various uses of the lands. Yet the Park Service’s draft environmental impact statement acknowledges that authorizing street-legal ATV and ORV use in the GCNRA will have direct and indirect impacts on its sensitive resources, including soils, vegetation, wildlife and cultural resources. The near-certainty of conflicts with quiet recreationists is obvious.
There is simply no compelling need to authorize ORV use in an area as magnificent as the GCNRA. There are thousands of miles of ORV routes on nearby public lands managed by the BLM and U.S. Forest Service in southern Utah that provide ample motorized recreational opportunities.
The Park Service should preserve Glen Canyon’s scenic landscape and cultural history rather than authorize ORV use that it will never be able to manage. SUWA and our partners are submitting comments on the proposed ORV plan. We’ll keep you posted.