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Different interests bring different ideas to 9 Mile Canyon recreational workshop

By Richard Shaw

A workshop designed to get input on recreation and tourism brought out about 50 people on Tuesday evening, and the event was eye opening, at least for some people.
Under a process known as SRMA (Special Recreation Management Area) Nine Mile Canyon was under scrutiny throughout the three and a half hour meeting discussing everything from hiking to mineral extraction. The idea of the meeting was to find what is in place and what could be developed to bring visitors to the area, and to have them spend quality time as well as dollars with local businesses.
The workshop is part of a Utah Bureau of Land Management effort (Connecting with Communities) to find out what it can do to manage what goes on Nine Mile Canyon and some adjacent areas. The workshop was not run by the BLM but instead by a group contracted with them called Public Land Solutions (PLS), which is based in Moab. The moderator and leader of the meeting was Ashley Korenblat, the Managing Director of the non-profit group.

Chronological summary

“We are here looking for the possibilities,” said Korenblat as she started the meeting. “We are looking to connect recreation to the community.”
She said many times during the meeting that the gathering was just for informational purposes and that the data they took in would be turned over to the BLM as they start to draft a plan on the things to develop in Nine Mile Canyon.
The audience consisted of people from many different backgrounds, but one side of the room was filled with private landowners in the canyon, who had quite a lot to say about what they see going on in the area. Presently almost 70 percent of the canyons bottom is privately owned.
However it took one person, who is not a landowner, to break the real ice and to point out that he believed that the process had started on the wrong foot.
“Don’t you think that step one in this process should have been talking to private land owners about where the trail heads for hiking are located on the maps you sent out?” said Alan Peterson, a recreational activist in the area. “It just seems like it is antagonistic when someone puts lines on a map before they even talked to the landowner.”
The maps he was referring to went out over the web a few days before, and Korenblat said that they were just concepts and not set in stone. She apologized that it seemed so definite, but that they were just looking for ideas and the experience of the people in the meeting would be invaluable.
While the tone started off a little rocky, soon the meeting turned into one where landowners, recreationalists, mineral extraction people and others started to agree with each other about some of what needed to be done to make the canyon not only a better place to live and play, but also in terms of safety and enjoyment.
The basic areas covered during the meeting were hiking, biking, motorized recreation, camping, mineral extraction and grazing.

Rift ends quickly

The initial rift over how the hiking trails had already been marked on the maps ended quickly as people started to make suggestions. However, there was not much there in terms of developing “hiking loops” where people could take a hike and come back to their vehicle. Many of the places that were selected by PLM to be examined for hiking trails are locked out by private land between a public thoroughfare and the BLM land they could be located on. Not one land owner that was present said they wanted a trail head on their property. Many felt they are already set upon by tourists and recreationalists who are coming to the canyon in increasing numbers since the road from the Carbon County side was paved a few years ago. However, none of them seemed opposed to more recreation, they just want it managed better.

Need better signage

“You know we just need better signage in the area,” said Ben Mead, who along with his wife Myrna own the only campground in the canyon. “People don’t even realize when they hit Nine Mile Canyon (as they drive up from Wellington). I have talked to people that are looking for rock art down around Soldier Creek not realizing they are not even in Nine Mile.”
Others said that the canyon is over used already, with lots of trespassing going on. Some said that the easements they have given are already too much.
In the area of hiking, only two loops were mentioned that really were not affected by private land. One would be out of Gate Canyon and go up to the Badlands Trail system that is being put together for motorized recreation. The other was a possible extension of the Daddy’s Canyon loop but as local Dennis Willis put it “it gets rougher than hell in there.” He also said he thought that spending money on building such hiking trails should be low down the list of things that need to be done.
“I can’t see that trail being a priority because there are many things that need doing there first,” said Willis. “There are things that are way more important than building that trail.”
Mead also mentioned that there might be the possibility of a trail in Cottonwood Canyon past the Great Hunt Panel called the Chimney Trail, which he said he has not been on for years.

Tourism packages

But the search for some kinds of hiking trails will go on because Korenblat explained that people need a package of things to do when they come to an area, and to make Nine Mile a viable addition in terms of money for businesses in the county, that will be important.
Layne Miller, who runs tours in Nine Mile for Carbon County Recreation, said that he gets a lot of questions from people about where they can hike there and that the county has been thinking about putting a trail in from Daddy Canyon to Cottonwood Canyon that also loops back.
That ended the discussion on trails.
Korenblat said that as far as mountain biking goes, she felt that there were really were not any good trails for bikes, but that the existing county roads would be the best for that activity.
The next issue was motorized recreation. One loop now exists that is part of the Carbon County Trail System. That is the road from Sunnyside to Cold Springs Canyon, to Cottonwood Canyon to Daddy Canyon and then back again through Dry Canyon.

Trail system model

It was pointed out that if one wanted to look at a good government-private land cooperative effort, that part of the Carbon County trail system is a model. That was mentioned because of the work done by the county in partnering with the Nutter Ranch and Hunt Oil that made that trail become a reality about a decade ago.
Some residents and landowners said that ATVs were a problem in parts of the canyon, particularly with kids 12 and under, largely from metropolitan areas, riding too fast along the roads in the area.
Another area that was pointed out as a possible ATV area was the development of the Badlands Trail, which is already in place from US 191 west to Strawberry Reservoir and will later connect to Argyle Canyon Road and then eventually be hooked up with Gate Canyon. While much of it is not in the canyon itself, it was discussed as a viable option for people looking from trails out and into the area.
In addition the Prickley Pear Canyon loop, which already exists, was also mentioned. There were also some other suggestions, but not all of them could pan out partly because of private property concerns.
Wellington Mayor Joan Powell, an avid ATVer, said that people who ride those machines are different from hikers and look for different things.“We love rock art, but ATVers are also looking for trails for their machines, scenic overlooks, grades that we can climb that will challenge us, etc.” she said.
Then came a discussion about the gates that were put in place on Horse Bench through an agreement between the former owner of the extraction leases in the West Tavaputs, Bill Barrett Company and the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. A hot point for years in that gates are placed across county roads to keep motorized recreation out, it was discussed what could be done about that loop because everyone who attended that rode it before it was closed talked about its beauty and its possibilities.
“I think that there may be some legislation coming down the road that might solve that problem,” said Carbon County Commissioner Jake Mellor. “With the new (presidential) administration things could change.”
Camping in the area was also another issue discussed. The only campground in the canyon is the one the Meads own (Nine Mile Ranch) and there are no official other campgrounds. Dispersed camping in the canyon is not allowed (areas like Cottonwood Glen are day use only) and it is discouraged in the side canyons. It was felt by most at the meeting that it should stay that way and free campgrounds should not be constructed, which would hurt the Meads’ business.

Grazing issue

There also some discussion about grazing and cattle in the canyon, and while some saw it as a problem for some visitors, for most it was not a concern. Cattle are present in most of the canyon year round based on grazing leases and rights, although there are some times they are heavier in number than others.
When it came to mineral extraction everyone agreed that even though Nine Mile Canyon Road is paved now, the turnouts for cars to be parked while people are looking for rock art are inadequate, particularly when energy industry vehicles are using the roads.
“Sometimes the drivers of our big trucks come around a corner doing 30 miles an hour and there is a Blazer sitting in the road with all its doors open,” said Mike Angus Superintendent for Enervest LTD Oil & Gas Production referring to tourists who stop to find rock art. “We love having the visitors in the canyon but we do have safety concerns about what is going on.”
In the end Korenblat and Katie Ross, the Program Manager for PLS felt good about the meeting and all the information and views they gathered.

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