The state of Utah is going to transfer control of Range Creek from the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) to the University of Utah sometime next month.
In 2003 the DWR purchased the land from Waldo Wilcox who had owned the property since the early 1950's. Wilcox had literally let no one on the land in over 50 years and because of that, and the respect his family had for the ancient ruins, petroglyphs and other sites on the land, they were in almost 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 and they have restricted access to only a few people a day (by permit) and have been patroling the canyon to make sure no artifacts or vandalism has been occuring.
In trade for that land the University of Utah will give up some of its trust lands which is considered 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 surveyers of the canyons ancient remains, other schools have also participated in finding what is there. Primarilly among them is the College of Eastern Utah.
This summer CEU archaeologist Renee and a group of volunteers and students have been doing an excavation in the canyon on a structure that was found during the original survey of the canyon in 2004.
How this trade will affect CEU's operations in the canyon remain to be seen. Barlow said that she had been hearing about this possible trade for some time, but it seemed it has been on then off.
"With this 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 in 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 graneries, jewelry, pots and pot shards and other items, probably one of the most celebrated items found was discovered by a DWR law officer in 2005. It was a flute that was stuck in a crevice in in rocks 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 what 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 and 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 catestrophic droughts and they just could exist there anymore.
According to reports University of Utah is giving up about four square miles of deer and elk habitat next to the Gordon Creek Wildlife Management Area in Carbon County. That parcel is part of the university's trust lands granted at statehood. In return, DWR will 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 Adminitration.
While it was reported that public access to the lands won't change much under the new administer, what happens will 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 the seasons but the 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.
What agency will take care of patrolling the canyon and providing security has still not been announced.