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RS2477 And the National Parks

East Rim Trail in Zion; East Zion Tourism Council Photo

A section of the East Rim Trail in Zion National Park. East Zion Tourism Council Photo.

The other day a federal judge tossed out a lawsuit that aimed to open Surprise Canyon in Death Valley National Park to ORV traffic.

That post generated a lot of debate over the propriety of a road in that rugged canyon. Those who filed the lawsuit claimed they had a right to the road thanks to a Civil War-era statute known as R.S. 2477.

Well, Death Valley isn't the only park that could suffer from this statute.

For instance, did you know that in Bryce Canyon National Park the Kane County Commission claims that portions of the Under-the-Rim backcountry trail and the Riggs Spring hiking trail are open to dirt bikes and other off-road vehicles courtesy of the statute?

Over in Zion National Park, Washington County officials say five miles of the East Rim foot and horse trail is a "constructed highway" that should be open to motorized use. And in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Kane County is trying to claim hundreds of miles of river corridors and desert footpaths as motorized vehicle routes.

When Congress passed R.S. 2477 as part of the 1866 Mining Law, the measure was intended to help open up the West by granting access across public lands. However, today there are those in the motorized recreation crowd trying to twist the statute by claiming access to hiking trails and footpaths in the parks and elsewhere on public lands.

There are plenty of places on America's public lands for motorized recreation, so many that there's no need to open up hiking trails in national parks to these vehicles.


There are plenty of places on America's public lands for motorized recreation, so many that there's no need to open up hiking trails in national parks to these vehicles.


Amen indeed.

As the owner of a lightly modified Jeep who loves to explore established trails, the thought of seeing or hearing dirt bikes or any other kind of motorized vehicle roaring along any part of the Under-The-Rim trail in Bryce or anywhere inside Zion canyon makes me ill. I've never been to Surprise Canyon in Death Valley NP, but judging from the photo, I would love to visit, on foot and in silence.

I know there are some off-highway vehicle enthusiasts who have little conscience or concern for the damage they cause or the trash they leave behind--essentially no concept of what "Tread Lightly" means. I have met many more, however, who do, and who feel as I do that we are guests in the backcountry and that the existing trails are kind of like a neighbor's driveway, to use a simple, kind of corny analogy. I wouldn't drive around a neighbor's yard admiring his house or park in his flower beds. When the trail ends, that's where I park my Jeep and start walking if I feel I need to go further.

RS2477 is a joke, just an arcane tool twisted to undermine necessary protections for special places. It's hard to find a single place that those southern Utah counties believe should remain unroaded. It's amazing to me how much money travelers seeking primitive recreation deposit in those counties' local economies compared with how much those counties care about making sure their special places stay protected and continue to draw the crowds of hikers. |

I just got back from backpacking the Under the Rim Trail at Bryce. In two days I saw only 2 other people. Several times my wife and I would just stand still and do nothing but listen to the silence...something that is impossible in our everyday lives. Unfortunately that solitude was broken a couple of times by a low flying helicopter doing tours of Bryce Canyon. That was bad enough, but at least it only lasted a few minutes. But having to deal with the constant buzz of motorbikes, possibly even having to share the trail with them? I'm not sure Bryce would ever see me again. And that would be one of the saddest days of my life.

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