If they build it, will more come?

  What's better for controlling and educating crowds of hikers in Utah's Grand Gulch - a brand-new visitors' center visible from the highway or more rangers on the trail?

The Bureau of Land Management has removed an old mice-infested trailer and wants to build a 1,600-square-foot center to teach people how not to disturb sensitive archaeological sites. But some Utahns, including outfitter Ken Sleight and local Navajos, oppose the plan because they say it will make the area - already well-known by pothunters - more accessible. The main reason for building the center seems to be the availability of $500,000 for such a project, adds Dave Pacheco of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.

"They should be looking toward protection rather than promoting visitors," says Sleight. The BLM has only two seasonal rangers to watch over some 55,000 annual visitors; Sleight and other critics would like to see at least seven rangers on site.

BLM Area Manager Kent Walter says critical comments have improved the plan. The agency is working with the Navajo Nation to jointly fund a minimum of three Native American rangers and the proposed center is now smaller and solar-powered.

While SUWA staffers say they probably won't appeal the plan, Sleight says he will file a lawsuit if the agency decides to build. "(Writer Ed) Abbey went down with me into Grand Gulch," he says. "We were fighting this even then. It just keeps rearing its ugly head."

*Elizabeth Manning

High Country News Classifieds