unpaved road to spectacular sandstone Angel Arch in Canyonlands
National Park has become another battleground in the continuing war
between rural county commissioners and the federal
The Park Service restricted motorized
travel along the primitive Salt Creek Road in 1995, reducing the
number of vehicles per day from 70 to 20. Since the road crosses
Salt Creek countless times, environmentalists argued that even
limited travel damaged streamside plants and animals and
contaminated surface water. In 1998, a district judge agreed, and
the Park Service closed the 10-mile-long road in the Needles
Then, in August the circuit court
reversed the ruling and sent the matter back to district court for
further review. Commissioners in San Juan County, Utah, who have
long sought control of roads on federal lands in their county (HCN,
10/28/96), saw the reversal as a victory: They told the
Park Service to reopen the road by Dec. 1.
the agency refused, county planner Ed Scherick is undeterred. He
says that since the road existed prior to the park's creation in
1964, it belongs to the county.
commissioners' position was weakened on Oct. 25, when a federal
judge ruled in a similar case. The judge said Garfield County
illegally improved a road within Capitol Reef National Park in
south-central Utah in 1996. Environmental groups say this decision
hobbles other local road claims.
Canyonlands Park Superintendent Jerry Banta says the Salt Creek
Road will remain closed to motorized travel until the park studies
the impacts of traffic on the creek. He says the park is trying to
find "a better answer" than full closure, and road realignment or
seasonal closures are possibilities.
met on Nov. 17 in Salt Lake City, but the issue was not resolved.
Says Banta, "There's not an answer that will make everybody