In their dogged battle to control federal public lands, San Juan County and the State of Utah have filed notices of appeal challenging the Federal District Court’s decision that Salt Creek in Canyonlands National Park is not a highway. The Federal Court’s decision is enormously important, not just for Salt Creek, but for the thousands of phantom road claims on federal public lands across Utah (by some counts, this could be 15,000 to 20,000 claims). The U.S. District Court’s decision makes clear that old trails with a sparse history of occasional use by cowboys, prospectors, or off-road vehicle users are not “county roads,” but are federal lands subject to federal control and management. As such, federal lands managers (i.e. National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, Forest Service) can close such trails and routes to protect natural and cultural resources.
When Canyonlands N.P. was established in 1964, Congress described the park’s gigantic standing rock formations, towering buttes, natural bridges and arches and balanced rock formations as “scenery of erosion,” summing up the millions of years of mighty geologic forces that are on display.
Vehicles can access many of these wondrous features via park roads. Thus, it’s difficult to understand why San Juan County and the State of Utah are willing to spend hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to appeal this decision to try to gain control over Salt Creek and allow jeeps and rock crawlers to drive up the creek bed, tearing out stabilizing vegetation and muddying the clear-running waters along the way.
There are no shortage of jeep and off-road vehicle trails in San Juan County. In fact, the BLM recently completed travel plans for public lands in San Juan County, which resulted in approximately 5,000 miles of designated routes on BLM lands alone in the county. In addition, there are hundreds of miles of vehicle route on National Park and Forest Service lands in San Juan County.
Salt Creek is a beautiful creek surrounded by slickrock and desert. Its year-round water and lush vegetation are an oasis in the desert for wildlife. SUWA will continue to fight for the protection of Salt Creek.