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Front Page » October 14, 2003 » Local News » It's Swell out There
Published 4,877 days ago

It's Swell out There

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How do we Stand on Dispersed Camping?

Some of the views and vistas of the Swell are now available only by hiking.

Just where does Emery County stand on the Swell? Do we have any input on the changes being implemented now and in the future? Of course, users would like to think that they do and the county wants to be included in the planning process. But, are the county and its citizens merely bystanders as the powers that be put up sign after sign, dictating the use of the Swell?

The Bureau of Land Management toured the Swell with Emery County Commissioners, Drew Sitterud and Gary Kofford, Emery County Sheriff Lamar Guymon, and Jeff Durrant, from the RAC subcommittee. BLM officials present were Tom Gnocek, Wayne Luddington, and Price Field Office Manager, Patrick Gubbins and Don Lum, BLM ranger assigned to the Swell.

The purpose of this field trip to the Swell was to look at the dispersed camping sites and to plan for their future. Sheriff Guymon was concerned that many of the dispersed camping sites have one short road leading into them and that road has been closed as part of the route designation plan which was released by the BLM and signed into effect on Feb. 3. This route designation plan left 667 miles of road open and in conjunction with county roads that left 2,000 miles of open road for motorized recreationalists. The final plan closed 468 miles of secondary OHV routes. The majority of these routes were duplicate routes, dead ending spurs and routes that exacerbated the problem of "route proliferation." You may or may not agree with these definitions of why the BLM closed some of these routes. The BLM goal was a balanced approach to the management of the Swell.

But, this balanced approach did not sit well with people who gathered to the Swell on their traditional Easter sojourn to find the road to their favorite camping spot closed. Hence, the purpose of the field trip. How much sense does it make to close roads to these established, hardened campsites? The people will just establish other camping spots and disturb more land in the end and therefore cause more damage. Sheriff Guymon pointed out the folly of such road closures to favorite camping spots.

The BLM wishes to address these issues and develop a plan as part of the resource management plan for which alternatives are currently being developed. The issue of dispersed camping was not dealt with as part of the route designation plan.

Sheriff Guymon stressed the need for more bathroom facilities on the Swell as the tour left Castle Dale and entered the Swell, the first spot for which a rest room would be a good idea is the fork in the road where the well is and the road takes off to the Wedge or the Buckhorn Draw area. Gubbins reflected that this would be a good spot for people to get their bearings and read the signs and decide where they were and where they were going.

Funds will become available in the year 2005 for improvements in the San Rafael Swell. The BLM is also exploring the end of year surpluses which may exist from projects completed which came in under budget which may be available for use on the Swell. Gnocek pointed out that the 2004 money which is available is earmarked for the Temple Mountain area with improvements and toilets in store for that historic area. He stressed the Temple Mountain plan is already in place and four vault toilets will also be installed around that area.

Gubbins reported that Fran Sherry, deputy director for the BLM has requested a proposal from the Price Field Office for a San Rafael proposal on improvements and the amount of needed funds. Sherry realizes the importance of the Swell and is anxious for an improvement plan to be in place. An allotment of approximately $240,000 is slated for the Swell area.

The group visited the Wedge Overlook and the camping spots available there. It was determined that large boulders could be used effectively in that area to keep people on the main road with well defined camping spots along the road defined by boulders. There were a lot of user created roads which led along the edge. One road is all that is needed in the area. One point of concern was that the RAC subcommittee had created a list of recommendations on dispersed camping which they will be presenting to the full RAC board for approval. Some of those recommendations are contrary to desired use of the Wedge. They recommended that no dispersed camping be allowed at the Wedge and no motorized use.

Emery County Sheriff Lamar Guymon, Patrick Gubbins, BLM Price Office Field Manager and Jeff Durrant, from the BLM RAC subcommittee discuss camping opportunities at the Wedge.

Gubbins said, "The BLM wants to enhance areas and protect resources as well as add some amenities. We want it to be the same as people remember from when they were kids. We want them to enjoy their experiences here."

Sheriff Guymon suggested that as any funds become available to fix a little at a time and not wait for the big dollars which may never come.

The Wedge was described as an area of high vehicle and visitor usage. Gnocek is a professional recreation planner and he said that some of the planning at the Wedge had not been done wisely. Fire pits were put in next to trees and other mistakes have been made in the area. He stressed that recreation planning is not just putting in a toilet, but the size of the area to be impacted needs to be considered as well as many other factors to develop a plan for any given site. The idea the recreation subcommittee had was to identify three high use areas in the Swell and begin development, preservation and recreational planning in those three areas. The Wedge, Temple Mountain and Swasey's Cabin were the three areas identified. The focus of the plan to be developed will accommodate use and include both developed and dispersed camping as well as installing toilets.

Sheriff Guymon said that camping has changed over the years. People enjoy the hardened campsites with more amenities now than in the past.

Working together seemed to be the consensus of the group on deciding what to do to protect the resource while still allowing enjoyment of the resource.

The implementation of the travel plan will continue. Signs will continue to be installed which direct people as to which uses are available in which areas. At the Wedge fencing has been installed to designate where camping is allowed and Luddington reported that compliance is good within that fenced area and that when people have distinct boundaries they abide by them.

Sheriff Guymon explained the difference in what his officer enforces on the desert and what the BLM officer enforces. The sheriff's office writes tickets pertaining to infractions by people. The BLM officer writes tickets for violations of federal statute on the land. The tickets that Deputy Ray Jeffs writes are handled through the justice court in Emery County. Sheriff Guymon said that with the advent of cell phones a call can be placed quickly to dispatch to report that someone is destroying signs or burning trees and an officer will respond immediately. Sheriff Guymon stated that users of the Swell are more concerned with preservation, "They want to be able to come here time after time and they want it to stay as it is and they take care of it while they are here."

Another key to educating the public is to let them know what is available. If there is a sign that says "Lookout one mile," then maybe they won't cutoff the road and make their own lookout, but will use the one that's available. Simple maps that are easy to use should also be implemented.

Gubbins said how happy he is to have a working relationship with Emery County and also support from the Washington Office. He said they will figure out a way to get restrooms for the Swell. "With everyone working together we are definitely moving in a positive direction," said Gubbins. "We hope to deal with all these issues through the RMP without having to amend the route designation plan."

In spite of differences of opinions and strong voices which did not always agree; the general consensus is the Swell is a jewel in the desert which must be preserved and protected, without prohibiting the human value and presence in the Swell.

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