Last year, organizers of the annual Outdoor Retailer Expo, which is likely the largest outdoor equipment trade show in the world, threatened to pull the plug on their popular trade show. The popular event has long been the anchor of Salt Lake City's convention-based economy.
The Outdoor Industry Association's ultimatum, which was presented to Utah's Gov. Gary Herbert by its board of directors, requested the state abandon its efforts to force the federal government to relinquish control of all public lands in Utah. The effort seeks local control of federal lands that include thousands of acres of reservation lands that are to be held by the state.
The OIA's effort seeks to put an end to a running battle that's been waged by state and federal government officials for a number of years. Utah's governor wants to open up thousands of miles of dirt roads and trails to motor vehicles. After all, he argues, the roads are on public lands, and motorized recreation is as important and lucrative as non-motorized recreation.
Although snow cover is meager, many of the mountain streams and brooks have retained ice.
Photo — Joe Hackett
The schism is apparently a fracture between traditional use and wise use, or motorized travel versus self propelled. Hikers and climbers don't mind the required exercise, while hunters, sightseers, anglers and other user groups do.
Motorized travel is considered an essential part of the process for hunters. It's difficult to haul a 1,000-pound bull elk out of the woods in a backpack. Four-wheeling is often a necessity, while off-road recreation enterprises such as the popular Pink Jeep tours sit squarely on either side. Of course, non-motorized use is not open to negotiation on the range, especially when it involves lost cattle or cowboys.
Caught in the middle of the fray are the aboriginal rights of native people who still stand as caretakers of lands that their people have cared for over the course of thousands of years. The lands are not theirs to own, but they are reserved for their use.
Does this fray sound familiar? Think about the Boreas Ponds, the Gooley Club, Lows Lake and Hitchins Pond, etc. The debate over a permissible means of access continues to be heard across the country, just as they do in the Adirondacks.
It's a battle that has been waged since the early days when "doodle bugs" threatened the vast, motorless reaches of the Park. Doodle bugs were an ugly and primitive mix of a Ski-Doo and a four-wheeler.
Essentially they were a motorized fiberglass bath tub with a row of balloon tires on each side. The land-use battle is certain to continue with the eminent arrival of solar-powered bikes, carts and canoes. New materials and power plants will make the means and methods of accessing the backcountry much easier.
The size and comfort of such conveyances will vex land planners for years to come. With solar powered motors, wind energy, and similarly stored power sources, travelers will have unlimited opportunities to access the interior.
Where will it all end? Probably when the travelers strap on a jet pack and ask, "Beam me up, Scotty."
I hope the controversy surrounding means of access and paddlers rights never again goes so far as the sinking of the fabled Long Lake steamship, The Butter Cup, which reportedly was scuttled by a group of disgruntled Adirondack guides who had lost their customers to the steamer.
In Utah, as in many other western states, issues surrounding means of access and protected public lands will continue to vex the best efforts of land managers for many years to come.
Before leaving office, President Obama used his authority under the U.S. Antiquities Act to designate more than 1.4 million acres of mountain desert in southeastern Utah as the Bears Ears National Monument. The federal designation will protect the lands from mining, drilling and similar consumptive or extractive industries.
Supporters claim the effort will preserve and protect sacred Native American ancestral lands, while opponents claim the designation will unfairly limit the means of access and eliminate development.
Encompassing more than 1.9 million acres of land with more than 100,000 archaeological sites, the effort to designate and preserve the new national monument has dragged on for more than 80 years.
Many Utah residents consider the recently announced designation a prime example of federal overreach, while backcountry enthusiasts continue to applaud Obama's efforts. If his efforts are not overturned in the court battles that are sure to follow, Obama will be responsible for protecting more wild lands than Teddy Roosevelt.