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Know the West

BLM braces for Mormon pioneers

  A million people - more than double Wyoming's population - are expected to visit the state's portion of the 150-year-old Mormon Pioneer Trail this spring and summer. The impending stampede has the Bureau of Land Management planning temporary closure of some trail sections.

"At this point nobody knows the size of the elephant," says BLM archaeologist Terry Del Bene in Rock Springs. "We're very worried about the overall impacts so much additional traffic will have on the trail."

The agency intends to allow a commemorative wagon train to pass over as much of the original path across Nebraska, Wyoming and Utah as possible. But this year's hefty snowpack and muddy spring thaw may play havoc with narrow 19th-century steel-rimmed wheels.

There are other worries, too. "Along the trail between (the Wyoming towns of) Atlantic City and Farson there's only one bathroom," says Del Bene.

Most of the original trail from Nauvoo, Ill., to Salt Lake City has been obliterated by modern development or fenced off by private landowners. In Wyoming, however, there are spots where visitors can still see 20-mile stretches of undisturbed two-track ruts: LDS Church followers took 9,600 wagon teams westward between 1847 and 1867.

*Chris Smith