BLM and volunteers begin trail
signage project in San Rafael
There are all sorts of ways to move along the trails in the desert region southeast of Price: Hiking boots, hooves, mountain bike, motorcycle, off-highway vehicle, four-wheel drive vehicle, and family car make up the spectrum.
The challenge facing travelers is knowing which of these 1,700 miles of trails is best for their mode of transportation. So the Bureau of Land Management, with lots of input from area citizens with a lifetime of experience in the region, is undertaking an evaluation and sign age project to mark the trails and designate the appropriate use.
An aerial survey is not enough. Some of those desert pathways are barely discernible, especially for the single-track courses used by dirt bikes. That's why the BLM is relying on the experience of the locals, who have used those trails over the years.
There's also a question of which trails are suitable for different types of vehicles and which are not suited for vehicles at all. The Black Box is uniquely for hiking, for example, while a main access road south of Woodside leading into the San Rafael can be negotiated by a two-wheel-drive car with good tires, driving slowly.
The project has also been launched to clear up a paradox that has bothered would-be travelers: "We are supposed to use designated routes only, but there are no designated routes," commented one citizen at a recent meeting of recreationists and BLM staff.
So on Saturday BLM recreation planner Josh Winkler and Jaydon Mead, the agency's OHV volunteer coordinator, set out into the desert near Cedar Mountain to get some signs up. With them they had a more than a half dozen volunteers.
As Winkler and Mead oversaw the project by looking at maps and talking with the ATV and dirt bike riders, trails that had not been labeled were labeled, and those that had once had signs were relabeled. Some of the signs designated one type of travel or another, others left it open to all modes.
The idea of the operation is to get BLM officials and the users of the Swell on at least the same wavelength when it comes to trail use.
The group met about 9 a.m. on Saturday morning and the two BLM employees rode with the group as the signs were installed. Many of the volunteers were from the local area, but a couple were from the Wasatch Front.
"I knew about the western end of the Swell," said one of the riders who hailed from Bountiful. "But I never have been out on this end of it. I will have to do some exploring."
During the ride various people in the group talked about their experiences in the Swell and how things had been in the past.
"This area here used to be the staging area for the desert race we used to have," said Scott Wheeler, a local dirt bike rider and activist, as he pointed out a flat space about mid-way between Cedar Mountain and where the Swell cutoff meets Highway 6. "There would be three or four hundred people camped here. Now you'd never know that."
That's because the area is now covered with grass and brush that is growing where campers and trailers once sat. The last time the race was held was in 2000.
The group also stopped at the spot where workers that had built the railroad grade south of Cedar Mountain in the late 1900s had also built some dwellings. Many were stone and the roofs had fallen in. The area is marked with weathered signs that historical groups had put up about the history of the place many years ago. Piles of rock that mostly were moved by hand as the workers cut a grade through the sandstone and shale were piled up in a number of places.
Those that had never been there were amazed by what those workers had done without modern equipment.
As the last of the markers were placed the group proceeded to climb up a rocky trail toward the top of Cedar Mountain. It was a memorable afternoon for many of those that were there.
Winkler says he works with all the groups that use the Swell and other BLM land in the area.
The charge for the BLM is that the land should be multiple use, and that is what they are trying to do by marking trails so that the wrong kinds of use stay out of sensitive and more primitive areas. It's a big job and having volunteers who are also users helps to make the point that all can be involved in the process. As with all laws and regulations they only work if the public in general observes the signs and directions.
This was the second Saturday in a month that the BLM and volunteers have worked toward trail identification and marking.