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Pro-access groups, supporters protest Muddy River road closure

Emery Progress reporter

Richard Beardall crosses into an area near Hidden Splendor mine that was recently closed by the BLM. Beardall and pro-access supporters protested the closure of the road into the Muddy River last Saturday.

On Saturday, more than 50 people gathered at the Hidden Splendor mine site to protest the closing of the road into the Muddy River by the United Stated Bureau of Land Management.

Richard Beardall, president of the Americans with Disabilities Access Alliance, spearheaded the protest on Oct. 14.

"Our mission is to provide access for elderly and disabled Americans to our public lands. We are hoping to draw attention to the impact this closure has had on many citizens," said Beardall.

Addressing the people gathered at the protest site on Oct. 14, Beardall told a story of four elderly men whom he had met two months after the closure of the road in the BLM's travel plan.

The American with Disabilities Access Alliance representative was at the site when the men pulled up in a car. The men told him of their youth spent in the area working in the various mines.

"They had been miners here, worked away their youths to dig the uranium that has kept us free for so many years. They wanted just once more, just once more to see the cabins where they lived while laboring in this splendid setting. But they could not because this barrier stopped them" explained Beardall, referring to the log fence crossing the road. "You see, they no longer had the physical ability to walk to the place they once labored. The misguided agents of our government have stopped them. They were no longer welcome."

Beardall said the Americans with Disabilities Access Alliance did not want to break the law, but the members of the group were at the site to protest what they viewed as oppression.

"Now I'd like to invite the oldest living member of the grand patriarch family of the San Rafael desert to join me," commented Beardall. "Monte Swasey, join me to once again go where your family roamed free."

The Americans with Disabilities Access Alliance representative then climbed on a four-wheeler and led the procession of protesters. Members of the crowd moved aside the barrier and the riders passed it with American flags waving.

John Anderson, a Salt Lake City resident who owns mining claims in the closed area, followed the all-terrain vehicles down into the canyon in a Jeep.

Anderson said he is required to pay the BLM a yearly fee of $125 per mine to keep the claims active, but is unable to access his property due to the closure.

"I worked in the Hidden Splendor mine with my father many years ago," noted Anderson. "My dad, Phil, spent his last years here working with his friend. He was a diabetic and needed insulin daily. Inside the mine is a small seep that runs very cold water and that is where he kept his insulin cold during that time."

Prior to the protest staged last Saturday, Beardall and Mark Williams, president of the SouthEastern Utah OHV Club, met with the BLM and Emery County officials to discuss the planned event.

The BLM decided not to attend the protest to issue citations to people who crossed the barrier.

"It's prettier than I remember. I wish I could have stayed longer. The last time I was here was 20 years ago," declared Beardall as the protesters rode out of the canyon.

While BLM officials were not present at the protest, they were aware of the activity and met with Beardall last week about the situation.

"I told Richard that the road was closed because of riparian issues," indicated Roger Bankert, the manager of the Price BLM field office during an interview on Monday. "We told them then that we would not be there."

A riparian zone is the interface between land and a flowing surface water body.

Bankert pointed out that the area in question is not necessarily permanently closed.

"Once we have our resource management plan in place, I told him that we could revisit the issue of that access closure," said Bankert. "I also told him that the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) does not come into play in this situation.

The Price BLM field office manager also explained that the road was closed at the site for logistical reasons.

"The place where the barriers are is a choke point, a place where it is easier to stop traffic," stated Bankert "Further down the road, it would have been hard to control the traffic because it is more wide open."

Many people who attended the protest knew that the BLM would not be there. But many attendees were expecting environmental groups to show up with a counter protest.

However, the only people who showed up at the protest staged last Saturday were from pro-access groups and supporters who sympathized with their position.

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