|Damage to rock panels at sites in Nine Mile Canyon are a major concern. State historical officials indicate that designating the area as a national historic district would provide not only recognition for Nine Mile Canyon, but also assist in obtaining federal assistance in preserving the sites.|
A move by a number of people and groups has been made to place the Nine Mile Canyon area on the National Register of Historic Places and nomination for the status is expected in the near future.
The announcement was made at the meeting of the Nine Mile advisory council on March 3 when Cory Jensen from the state history division and Steven Hansen from the Nine Mile Coalition spoke to the panel.
"My office recently met with the historical preservation office and talked about what this should do for the canyon," said Jensen. "This type of recognition does nothing more than to recognize the canyon as being a unique and special place."
Since the inception of the register in 1966, approximately 78,000 properties have been listed. Files contain information on more than 1.2 million individuals resources at the register's office in Washington, D.C.
Resources include buildings, sites, districts, structures and objects. The documentation on the properties consist of photographs, maps and a registration form providing a physical description of the place, information about its history and significance and a bibliography.
In the case of Nine Mile, the canyon area involved in the movement would be nominated as a district instead of a site.
In February, a meeting was conducted in Salt Lake for proponents to discuss the register.
Some of the people involved in the Salt Lake gathering were present at the advisory board meeting on March 3. The members of the group discussed different options about how to proceed and said the most successful path that could be taken for nomination to the registry.
United States Bureau of Land Management officials indicate that Sally Wisely, the BLM's state director, has committed to assisting in the nomination in conjunction with the Nine Mile coalition.
The group agreed that the nomination should move forward, with rock art being the primary theme and the effort should be based on prehistory rather than more recent events in the canyon.
"We decided, at this time, it would be a better nomination if we concentrated on the prehistory and removed all historical contexts from the nomination," said Jensen. "The point of this is to recognize the canyon and its unique historical significance. If the resources disappear they will be gone forever."
The BLM and others are still working to define the exact parameters of the boundaries of such a district, but feel they have them pretty close to where they need to be. One of the difficulty has been that the historical resources go on for miles and miles around the canyon and what to include and what not to include has been a complicated task.
One of the concerns among members of the advisory council was how this nomination and subsequent placement on the registry could affect private property owners in the canyon. Around 60 percent of the land in the canyon is in private hands.
"This designation does nothing more than recognize the canyon," said Jensen. "But it does promote preservation. It doesn't bring any restrictions as to what private property owners can do with their land."
Rex Sacco, the land use planner for Carbon County attended the advisory council meeting and he said that the county wants to be sure citizens property rights and the county's rights are protected.
"I know some in the county have concerns about this," stated Sacco. "When the canyon was named one of the 11 most endangered places in the country last year (by the National Trust for Historic Preservation) it was kind of a slap in the face to the area. Our county commission needs more information on this nomination and it's effects, particularly on private property owners. The commissioners want to be involved in this and they need their questions addressed."
Don Hamilton, who was representing Bill Barrett Corporation, a gas exploration and development firm that works around the Nine Mile area was concerned about the direction such a move could have.
"I am concerned that all this will do is to increase awareness of the resources," he stated. "I seem some parallel with this and the original plan of mapping roadless areas in areas run by the forest service. Now some of that is being used as a tool to keep development away."
Jensen parried with the fact that was a forest service agency procedure and that the national register doesn't do the same thing. He also said that these kinds of moves are not done behind closed doors because it is traditional to have some type of public meeting on the situation. He also said such a move does have precedence.
"There are other similar districts around, for instance the White Mesa area in San Juan county," he pointed out. "But this would be unique, there is nothing quite like this."
The BLM also has to measure how the recent issuance of their Price field office resource management plan (RMP) will fit into any designation.
"As far as I can see the boundaries as they are proposed now are similar to the RMP and the ACEC (areas of critical environmental concern)," stated Hansen. "As for what the designation will do, heritage tourism is a huge industry, and this designation could have a large impact on the county economically. There are many different aspects to this."
Hamilton said he wondered if the canyon and the area were really ready for all the national attention that has occurred and would occur with the nomination.
"There really is not that much infrastructure to accommodate tourists there yet," he noted. "There is basically only one restroom up there,"
But others pointed out that infrastructure is constantly being developed in the canyon and that there are many benefits to the area if it is named to the register.
"I think the benefits include a number of things," said Hansen. "First it would recognize a property of significance, second there would be involvement from the federal government in terms of planning and even tax benefits and the area could also get some federal preservation funds as well."
It was also mentioned that the BLM could get priority funding for projects because of such a designation too.
According to those working on the nomination the process will take a year to a year and a half.