I know of almost no one that doesn't want the best for Nine Mile Canyon.
But the problem is that what one person or group thinks is best, is not always the same as what another person or group thinks is best.
And up until about two years ago, those differing attitudes are what prevented anything of substance from happening there in terms of cooperation.
It was at that time that College of Eastern Utah president Ryan Thomas suggested to various people that he would act as a mediator between the various interests to try to get them to find common ground.
It wasn't that the interests had never met or even cooperated at times, but never had all the players with interest in the canyon sat down together on a regular basis and worked toward some common goals.
With the hard work of a few and the cooperation of many, a committee was formed to come up with ideas that would help all to succeed in the canyon. It was a true first. At the early meetings there were preservationists, gas exploration and production managers, land owners, timber people, county officials, federal/state land representatives and just about everyone that wanted a say in what was going on there.
The Nine Mile Advisory Committee as it came to be known, had little official power, other than it provided an outlet for ideas to blossom. And blossom they did, as projects that had been thought about for years were taken off the back of the stove and placed on the front burners. In cooperation with the Bureau of Land Management, the State Institutional Land Trust, and private land owners, projects like Daddy Canyon and improvements around the Great Hunt Panel have either been completed or are on their way to being finished.
But more importantly the discussion within the group developed an urgency to get something done about the road through the canyon, probably the biggest sticking point of all in the years of acrimony concerning the canyon. With the interest generated by the committee, idea after idea has come forth concerning the design and ultimately the finances that are needed to fix the road so that it is safe, usable by all parties and yet not destructive to the ambiance of that sacred place.
Now the Carbon Recreation and Transportation Special Service District has stepped in and has started to discuss the possibility of financing some of the road improvements. The cost to complete the road the way many envision it is well beyond the financial means of any local county agency or even a group of them, yet the idea that local government wants to participate by putting down some real money to get the job done shows a great deal about the way people feel about the canyon.
Despite the successes, some very apparent, some not so, in the last few months, things have changed. Members of the committee have quit because they felt things weren't moving fast enough; a common reaction by people of action when they meet up with the red tape of dealing with public lands and little clear direction of where things will go. Others have just stopped attending the meetings. Like in all committees, sometimes there is a lot of talk, but little action. That can be frustrating.
When the group first began meeting on a monthly basis, people filled the conference room at the CEU Student Center. Last week there were eight people there, counting Judy Bartholomew who was taking notes for the chair of the group, Mike King, and myself who was covering the meeting for the paper. Most importantly those who were absent included the people who represent private business and land ownership in the canyon.
I have watched this committee since just after its inception. I have seen the agreements and the disputes that have arisen during its discussions. The one thing I can say is that it has done a great deal to bring reality to the minds of those who love Nine Mile Canyon. The reality that the ancient writings there could be destroyed if not protected. The reality that the canyon is a dangerous place for tourists because there are some bad places on the road. The reality that gas exploration in the canyons vicinity is going to continue and probably escalate. The reality that we can't turn back time forty years and lock the canyon away from the world. And most importantly, that compromise is a reality that anyone who loves the canyon must accept.
Despite the decline in attendance, the committee will continue its work. With road issues possibly out of the way or at least out of connection with the group, they may and probably will refocus on a number of smaller projects that they can get done. Those will all be important in the long term plan for the canyon because without organized places to stop at, venues to view and information for visitors, a better road of any kind will be of much less value.