Temple Mountain Troubles
|Plans for improvements to the Temple Mountain area causes concern among county officials and ATV groups.|
Temple Mountain was the site for a field trip on Dec. 16 for Emery County officials and the Bureau of Land Management and local ATV group representatives. The cause for concern among county officials and ATV representatives, began with the construction of fencing in the Temple Mountain area. Part of this fencing went across a route which was designated open in the route designation plan. Emery County Commissioner Drew Sitterud said, "We want this road reopened."
Upon gathering at the site of the first fencing in the area, Patrick Gubbins, BLM Price Field Office Director welcomed the group. Gubbins recognized the fact that a road which had been designated as open on the route designation plan had indeed been fenced off. "We need to do the right thing and look at the ramifications of the project. We need to find a solution everyone can feel good about, but everyone may not get all they want." Gubbins said that part of the confusion concerning the Temple Mountain project is because the construction crew is out of the Moab office.
An environmental assessment was prepared on the Temple Mountain project. Deferred maintenance funding and a Utah State OHV grant, together totaled $177,000 to use to make some improvements in the area and Tom Gnojek, outdoor recreation planner is the author of the EA document with Brad Higdon as the environmental coordinator, Blaine Miller, archaeologist, and Rob Sweeten, landscape architect.
The date of public notification was Nov. 1, 2003, the proposed actions were listed on the Utah Internet Electronic Notification Bulletin Board (ENBB) Homepage. The process used to involve the public included an onsite visit with representatives of some of the affected groups in October 2003. No general public comment period was provided other than by the individual and agencies consulted. On May 6, 2004 the proposal was presented during a visit by the Utah State Parks Board to the area. The board supported the recent expansion and upgrade efforts at the nearby Goblin Valley State Park and felt the Temple Mountain project would help with overflow from the park.
The recent meeting between the BLM and concerned individuals and agencies brought up questions that were not adequately addressed in the EA and problems which have arisen with the recent implementation of the improvements.
The group, in looking at the first site where the road had been closed, questioned why such a large area had been fenced off. This site was the original preferred location for a group use camping area, but in the archaeological evaluation of the area, significant archaeological sites were discovered. Scott Wheeler, OHV representative was interested in knowing exactly what had been found which warranted such a wide closure of the area to vehicular traffic.
The answer given was ancient hearths and evidence of prehistoric camping and pottery shards had been found during an excavation and tunneling project by the BLM. These findings were valuable and significant enough to warrant a change of location for the campsite and the fencing of the area to offer it protection. When items and areas of significant archaeological value are discovered the BLM is required under federal law to protect that site. Part of the existing archaeological finds have already been destroyed and once destroyed cannot be restored. It is the hope of the BLM to preserve remaining sites in the area. It was also wondered by the group if the significant items could be excavated and removed for preservation. The money currently is not available to do this and it was estimated that it would take $96,000 to excavate the site. The site could fill in gaps in knowledge about those who used the area prehistorically and when it was used. Artifacts found could also be dated to add to the knowledge concerning the prehistoric people. The money for the archaeological testing done to date has been $20,000 and this money is coming from the total project money. Wayne Ludington, from the BLM said the engineers were not happy about the money involved because it takes away from resources available for the improvement project.
Emery County Commissioner Gary Kofford was concerned that closing this area where the archaeology had been found will just send travelers down the road to impact another area. He believes there are archaeological sites out there no matter which direction you go. Gnojek said, "Yes, you're right and we're obligated to protect it."
The second stop on the tour was to the large group area referred to as the "people pasture" which recently has been fitted with wood fencing on both sides of the county road. The group seemed happy with the improvements to this area, because it did not affect the camping there. One question arose on whether the fencing was really needed on the wash side of the area, but in order to prevent deterioration and erosion and to keep ATVs out of the sensitive areas, the fence will remain. The fencing has two entrance ways along the roadway. Two toilets have also been installed.
One area of concern was in a play area which was left unfenced. It was brought up that the play area was too small and because of this presents risks for riders in the play area. The fact that the play area is not fenced from the road was also a concern. The BLM will take the advice of fencing the play area and separating it from the road under advisement. The play area was previously much larger and ATV representatives wished to see a larger area opened. The BLM said the reason the larger area was fenced off was because of the finding of significant archaeological artifacts in this area as well. Alan Peterson in talking to Gubbins suggested the seeking of funding to get an archaeological clearance which could open up a larger area. The area near the slick rocks where most of the significant findings are recorded would remain fenced, but the open area could be cleared for use if the proper channels are gone through to reopen part of this area to be used for a play area for OHVs. Everyone present duly noted that the present condition of the play area is a potential liability situation.
The question was also brought up concerning the use of ATVs on county roads. Currently the county has not adopted an OHV plan for county roads so it is illegal to operate any ATV on county roads. The cities in the county have been working on their own access plans for their city roads.
|A road designated open by the route designation plan has been fenced.|
The tour continued up the road to the group use area which is under construction. Old cars and debris left over from the heyday of the uranium mining activity in the area have been carted away. The group use area encompasses approximately four acres and currently three large campsites are being configured. These three camping areas were a cause of concern. Those present did not feel the site would adequately accommodate the high visitor use in the area. Possible scenarios included someone with a tent or trailer coming into the group area and tying up one spot which would discourage other campers from moving in on the campers already there.
In walking over the area, the group suggested hardening a larger area and not delineating camping spots, but leaving larger areas available for more campers to use. One other matter of concern was in accessing a motorized trail which is open from the campground area, without having to go back out onto the main road and backtracking down the road on ATVs to get to the motorized trail. It was suggested that a passage through the fenced area be opened up to allow ATV access to the motorized trail. The entire group use camping area has been fenced. In the group use area three large shelters were proposed with six picnic tables and two bathrooms.
Another topic of conversation was the proposed closing of motorized dispersed camping in a one mile radius from the developed campgrounds. It was mentioned you could still park in the campground and pitch a tent in the outlying areas, but would not be allowed to drive to dispersed camping spots within the one mile buffer area of the campground. This proposal met with much protest from the group.
The main objection being there has been a lot of displacement of campers already and the Temple Mountain area has historically been an area which can accommodate large group use with very little impact. The closing and paring down of such an area, met with much protest. The issue of user conflict was brought into play. The hikers and the ATV community will generally flock to separate areas without too much conflict. Throwing these two user groups closer together was projected to lead to problems in the future.
Peterson suggested the BLM put a more positive foot forward in promoting public relations. He said to finish a positive project, like a campground and increased toilets, and get them finished and allow people to use them. Then, if a closure or a step to protect the environment is needed, the people are more likely to accept it and to comply if they have seen firsthand the improvements the BLM is trying to make.
The BLM seems to be taking a backwards approach in the development. In an area where increased use is seen continually, the available camping sites are being eliminated and made harder to use. The BLM is taking the suggestions of the group under advisement and the project will continue with modifications of the concerns being taken into consideration. A new EA may have to be written to include the suggestions and bring the improvements to fruition.
Another issue brought up concerning the desert roads is the ingress and egress to dispersed campsites. The group would like to see this issue adequately addressed and resolved. In the route designation plan unless the road leading into a dispersed camp site was listed as being open, it became illegal to leave the road to access that campsite. Gubbins hopes to adequately have this issue addressed in the near future.
Another concern was the removal of old mining remnants from the uranium boom. Some in the group felt it was a part of the legitimate history of the Swell and deserved protection as much as the ancient history of the area. The old town site was documented and pictures taken of the debris and then they were hauled away. Some felt there should be an area there where these modern artifacts could be viewed.
Peterson said one line in the EA concerned him which said, "artifacts underground yet to be discovered." What does that mean exactly? Will that restrict future use?
At the end of the tour, Gubbins gathered the group and thanked them for their open and honest input. He said he will be talking to his recreation department and looking at the three focus sites. One other suggestion made was signage upon entering the high use camping areas to alert travelers to the potential of ATVs on the road and a lot of visitors and encourage them to slow down their vehicles when passing through these areas. Gubbins also said he would have the architect from Moab look at maximizing the sites in the group use area to accommodate more campers. It was also suggested that in keeping with the natural environment the BLM use less fencing and more large boulders for boundaries. Emery County Public Lands Director, Ray Petersen said that the county has offered the services of their road department many times and extends the invitation again to be involved in these projects.
The issue of the open road closed by the fence was brought up again and Gnojek wondered if it was worth moving the fence over and Gubbins replied yes, the fence would be moved to keep the BLM in compliance with their own route designation plan. Gubbins is going to discuss the fence moving with the Moab office and the work will be scheduled.
Gubbins said their primary focus is to give the public the most recreational opportunities as possible.
It was decided for now that the campground for group use would be available on a first come/first served basis. "We have some things to look at and redo, we'll move the fence. We'll tweak and solve problems," said Gubbins.