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University of Utah could benefit from Range Creek land swap

To many people Range Creek may look like a typical dry eastern Utah canyon, but it is actually a treasure trove of rock art and artifacts.

Sun Advocate publisher

A report on Thursday said that the state of Utah is looking to transfer control of Range Creek from the Utah State Division of Wildlife Resources to the University of Utah sometime next month.

But DWR official, Mike Canning said that the swap is not a done deal yet, although it has been in the works for some time.

"The DWR would get 2000 acres to help us block up the Gordon Creek Wildlife Management Area," he told the Sun Advocate in a phone interview on Wednesday. "But it isn't done yet."

In 2003, the DWR purchased the land from Waldo Wilcox, who had owned the property since the early 1950's. Wilcox had literally allowed no one on the land in over 50 years. Because of that situation, and due to the respect his family had for the ancient ruins, petroglyphs and other sites on the land, they are in near-pristine condition. For many in the know, the canyon is the best-preserved area of Indian ruins in the United States.

The canyon, which is about 35 miles southeast of Price, has been under control of the DWR ever since. They have restricted access to only a few people a day (by permit). They have also patrolled the canyon to make sure no artifacts or vandalism has occurred.

In trade for that land, the University of Utah would give up some of its trust lands which are considered to be elk and deer habitat.

"It allows us to emphasize the study of the natural history and archaeology of the canyon," Duncan Metcalfe, chief curator of the Utah Museum of Natural History, told the Associated Press on Tuesday. "That's not really part of DWR's mission."

While the University of Utah has been one of the main surveyors of the canyons' ancient remains, other schools have also participated in finding what is there. Primary among them is the College of Eastern Utah. This summer, CEU archaeologist Renee and a group of volunteers and students have been conducting an excavation on a structure that was found during the original canyon survey in 2004.

The affects of this trade on CEU's canyon operations remain to be seen. Barlow said that she had heard about this possible trade for some time, but it seemed to be an off and on situation.

"With this possible change in administration of the canyon, we are worried about CEU's ability to continue our archaeological research which we feel is significant and which I have been working on for the last eight years," said Barlow on Wednesday morning. "We are just worried about access issues and whether we will have difficulties with the University of Utah, as at times we have in the past. We are concerned about being able to access our sites and do our research."

While there have been many artifacts found in the canyon, including tools, actual corn cobs from granaries, jewelry, pots, pot shards and other items, probably one of the most celebrated items was discovered by a DWR law enforcement officer in 2005. It was a flute that was stuck in a rock crevice above the access road. There has been some controversy as to the age of the flute, but it is still being tested and examined by the state to find exactly which group of people it belonged to. Some think it may be archaic, but it could also be Fremont or pre-Ute. In any case, Barlow told the Sun Advocate the find is significant, because it is either one-of-a kind or very rare.

Around 1200 A.D., the Fremonts disappeared from the canyon. No one has been able to determine exactly why they left and where they went. Most archaeologists suggest that the farming communities that made up much of the culture suffered a series of catastrophic droughts and they just could not exist there any more.

The parcel that the University of Utah would be giving up is part of the university's trust lands granted at statehood. In return, DWR would trade them 2.3 square miles of parcels on Range Creek's canyon bottom. The actual title to the lands reportedly will be held by the Utah School and Institutional Trust lands Administration.

While it was reported that public access to the lands wouldn't change much under the new administration, what happens could no doubt affect many who want to see the canyon.

Presently, the University of Utah has a caretaker in the canyon, who is there for all seasons except winter, when snow makes passage into the canyon impossible. The DWR has also posted regular daily patrols in the canyon since they acquired the property.

Canning said that law enforcement in the canyon would revert to being the responsibility of the University of Utah if the trade is completed.

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