Proposed road improvements around the Hunter rock art panel in Cottonwood Canyon appear to be in the works.
The road is located near Nine Mile Canyon and the proposed project looks like it will go ahead, indicated Bill Griffith of the Bill Barrett Corporation at a Nine Mile advisory group meeting last Thursday.
"When we had our original meeting, there were a number of ideas for projects in the canyon proposed," pointed out the BBC representative.
"The state and BBC have been discussing this and it looks like we are going to pursue the route of moving the road just across the streambed in the canyon. This alternative is good not only in terms of total cost, but also in the protection and the viewing of the rock art," continued Griffith.
The road currently runs within a few feet of Hunter, one of the most popular rock art panels in the canyon.
Preservationists are concerned that dust is damaging the ancient markings, while other people question the safety pulling off the road into the narrow spot to view the panel.
The proposed roadway improvements would provide additional protection for the panel and improve traffic safety.
Most of the property included in the project is located on state institutional trust lands. No United States Bureau of Land Management ground is involved.
If BLM lands were included, it would require working through National Environmental Protection Act provisions to get the change made.
During the years, there have been many calls to restrict development and preserve the entire canyon area.
The majority of people responding to a poll conducted on the Sun Advocate website in February wanted the canyon to remain as it is
A significant percentage of respondents wanted to see the Nine Mile area developed for tourism, while 7 percent wanted to restrict access to the canyon.
"This has been a cooperative effort between the state, the county and our company," said Griffith.
"The state still has to do a cultural inventory of the area and we need a permit for the two stream crossings, but it looks good," added the BBC representative.
State trust lands archaeologist Corrine Springer indicated that moving the road was a good idea.
"There have been plans in the works for years to get that road moved," explained Springer. "There have been a lot of people who have looked at this so we could come up with the best ideas. Even moving the road just 10 feet would create a better situation."
The fact that the entire project can be completed within the confines of SITLA property makes it a much simpler proposition that it would in some parts of the Nine Mile area.
Ownership of property in the vicinity is a major issue because many different interests are competing with concepts about how the canyons should be utilized.
Some groups would like to turn the area into a type of federal reserve, while a few on the other side want almost unbridled development.
Many environmental groups have become involved in the matter by lobbying the BLM to take control and stop any kind of development or gas exploration in the Nine Mile area.
However, the BLM's percentage of jurisdiction in the direct bottom of Nine Mile Canyon represents a minority interest compared to the state and private land ownership
The comparison is based on using Nine Mile Creek as the center line and a 1,320 foot buffer around it as the bottom of the canyon.
In the Carbon County section of the canyon 2,276 acres are privately owned and the state controls 65 acres. The BLM has jurisdiction over 1,676 acres.
On the Duchesne County side of the canyon, 1,172 acres are owned by private interests. The state controls almost 193 acres, while the BLM has jurisdiction over 738 acres.
Overall, about 56 percent of the land is privately owned, about 38 percent is controlled by the BLM and the state has rights to around 5.5 percent.
Griffith's company has been working on seismic exploration as well as the drilling of gas wells in the canyon and he also owns property in the area.
The BBC representative explained that the road move would come in two phases.
The first would be to get the road built with the stream crossings and the second would be to create a viewing and parking area and put together the landscaping for those venues.
Carbon County Commissioner Steve Burge asked about the time frame for starting and finishing the roadway improvements.
"It think everyone is shooting for an April 1 start date," said Springer.
Discussion turned to what the site would look like after the improvements are completed.
Springer explained that the concept was aimed at a viewing area similar to the one set up in Buckhorn Wash on the San Rafael Swell a few years ago.
The canyon road viewing area could possibly include kiosks, fences and signage, said Springer.
College of Eastern Utah Prehistoric Museum archaeologist Pam Miller said money had already come from a grant for signage in the area.
Once the road changes are completed, a plan drawn up by a landscape architect will be utilized to design the area.
Much of the landscape work at the site will be done by volunteer groups.
Costs and construction factors associated with the roadway improvement project have not been totally clarified.
But Bill Barrett Corporation has arranged to have Uintah Engineering complete a significant amount of the design work on the project.
And it appears the costs will be shared through the development of a joint agreement between BBC, Carbon County and SITLA.