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Groups rally for public trails access in Utah – July 24, 2006

July 24, 2006
Filed under Features

Two groups concerned about access to public lands hosted a pro-access rally on the steps of the Washington County Administration Building in St. George, Utah, on June 29.
Representatives of the BlueRibbon Coalition (BRC), a national recreational access group, and the Utah Shared Access Alliance (USA-ALL), Utah’s largest public lands access advocacy organization, said they hosted the rally “to encourage political representatives to keep public lands open for recreation and to counter the proposals of radical environmental groups.”
The groups are concerned that without public outcry, environmental groups may have undue influence on management plans proposed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the U.S. Forest Service. They warn that new plans may close roads and trails and limit the ability to connect trails and create recreational loops.
“The general public does not understand how these decisions are made and feel their concerns will not be taken seriously by federal land managers,” said Mike Swenson, USA-ALL’s executive director. “That’s why we decided to have a rally. We wanted a fun way for folks to participate and have a voice in these decisions.”
The rally included talks by Utah state Senate Rep. Tom Hatch, Utah state House Rep. Mike Noel and Utah state House Rep. Brad Last.
“I worked for the BLM for years,” Noel said. “I know how hard it is for local citizens to make their voice heard in the planning process. This kind of rally can send a powerful message to land managers.”
“The general public needs to understand they can’t take it for granted that their favorite trail or campsite will remain open,” said Brian Hawthorne, BRC’s public lands director.
Hawthorne expressed concern that the media did not report that environmental groups recently announced a call for legislation that could impact wilderness areas statewide. “The environmental groups added a huge chunk of wilderness in Washington County to their bill, and we didn’t hear a peep about it in the press,” he said.
The BRC and USA-ALL say the BLM and the Forest Service have set aside millions of acres exclusively for hiking and horseback riding, but explain that much of Southern Utah is already off limits to motorized vehicles and even to mountain bikes.
“We want our political representatives to understand how important it is to protect the existing roads and trails,” said Dale Grange, a member of the Washington County based Tri-State Off-Highway Vehicle Club. “Southern Utah is home to world-class opportunities for all forms of outdoor recreation. Regardless of if you hike, mountain bike, snowmobile or ride ATVs, this region has much to offer.”

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