STREAM IN CANYONLANDS NATIONAL PARK CLAIMED AS 'HIGHWAY' BY SAN JUAN
After a nearly decade-long campaign by conservation
groups, led by the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, the National
Park Service closed Salt Creek inside Canyonlands National Park to
motor vehicles by regulation in June 2004. San Juan County and the
State of Utah have claimed the Creek as a "constructed highway" under
RS 2477. If their claim is recognized, it would degrade what the Park
Service calls "the most extensive perennial water source and riparian
ecosystem in Canyonlands National Park, other than the Green and
Colorado Rivers" as well as "the heart of the Salt Creek Archeological
District, the area with the highest recorded density of archeological
sites in the Park." The public can still access these wonders by less
damaging foot and horse travel.
Read the Park Service's rule and
learn more about
See the Creek
See a photo of the Salt Creek ‘highway’ and other bogus claims.
NOTE: Before and after photos showing the route after the route was
temporarily closed in 1998 can be viewed at pages 138 and 139 of the
NPS environmental analysis.
Although it has since been removed, there was a photo posted on the
Boston University website showing a vehicle using the "road" that is
County and Utah Sue to Turn Creek into a Highway
Despite Salt Creek's incredible values, San Juan County
thinks the Creek is a “constructed highway,” and that vegetation and
archeological resources there should be destroyed so that jeeps can
drive through the Creek. The county has sued to take control of the
creek as an RS 2477 right-of-way.
Read a June 17, 2004 Salt
Lake Tribune story and a
June 19, 2004, LA Times story. Read San Juan's
complaint. Not to be outdone, the State of Utah has threatened to
file their own suit, attacking as "intolerable" the Park Service's
actions to protect Canyonlands' natural values and vowing to use and
maintain the route without Park Service approval. See the state's
July 16 notice of
intent to sue.
The Park Service itself concluded in 2002 that the
alleged “constructed highway” did NOT meet the standard of a valid
right-of-way under RS 2477. The Park Service began a draft report, but never finalized
The National Park Service is trying to keep conservation groups out of
San Juan County's lawsuit. Taken to its logical end, the NPS argument
could make it difficult for conservationists to challenge a Park
Service decision to give away rights-of-way across the entire U.S.
through a similar "Quiet Title" lawsuit.
Read the agency's September 3, 2004 brief. The U.S. District
Court for the District of Utah denied conservation groups attempt to
intervene in the case in October 2004, but conservationists
immediately appealed the ruling to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals.
That case is now being briefed.
Read the opening brief of
conservation groups, filed in December, 2004.
April 2005 - the
State of Utah formally joins San Juan County's suit seeking to turn
the Creek into a highway.
Read the state's
complaint, which asks the court to permit the state to "maintain"
the "highway," including the right to put in culverts and other
August 30, 2005 -- in a major victory for conservationists, the 10th
Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that those who work to protect public
lands can have a seat at the table in court.
the court's ruling.
February 2006 -
the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals agrees to calls from the Park
Service and San Juan County to have the entire court rehear the
decision that awarded SUWA intervention. Briefing on the issue was
completed in June 2006; the argument will occur the last week of
Conservationists, Media, and Off-Roaders Respond
The National Parks Conservation Association found RS
2477 claims--including the claim at Salt Creek--to constitute a major
threat to Canyonlands National Park in a report the group prepared on
the health of that park. It posted a press release and report at its
website on September 9, 2004. Read a
September 10, 2004, Deseret News article on NPCA's report.
Read an editorial
from the Salt Lake Tribune, July 2, 2005, criticizing Governor Jon
Huntsman for siding with forces seeking to gain state ownership over
federal rights-of-way including Salt Creek.
June 2006 -- The Blue Ribbon Coalition, mouthpiece of the off-road
industry and users, boo-hoos the closure of Salt Creek in a
in its magazine.
2007: The Court Decides
Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled October 3, 2007 that the
public is allowed at the table when decisions about public lands are
Read an editorial in the Salt Lake Tribune.