U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Supervisory Outdoor Recreation Planner Rock Smith said his agency is working on an Environmental Assessment of recreational activities at the arch and other popular sites.
“We’re trying to decide what activities are appropriate at these spectacular natural areas,” Smith said June 11.
The BLM acquired Corona Arch and other iconic landmarks through the Utah Recreational Land Exchange Act of 2009. In return, Utah’s School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA) picked up energy-rich lands that the BLM previously managed in the Uintah Basin.
BLM officials have said that the exchange, which was finalized earlier this year, will preserve more than 25,000 acres of prime recreational areas in the area.
By anyone’s estimation, the dazzling Corona Arch is one of the most important ones.
Smith estimated that 40,000 hikers visit the 140-foot tall arch near Moab each year, and based on those numbers, the BLM has identified it as a hiking focus area.
“That implies that people will have a certain experience in that area, and the question is whether they can have that experience [with rope swinging],” Smith said. “If there is an impact to their hikes, it could be considerable.”
Corona Arch has been the site of several serious rope-swinging incidents, including a fatal swinging accident in March 2013 that claimed the life of 22-year-old West Jordan resident Kyle Lee Stocking.
More recently, a 25-year-old New York man sustained head injuries when he fell about 70 feet during a May 4 rope-swinging accident. The man, who was not wearing a helmet at the time, was later flown to St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction for treatment of his injuries.
As serious as that incident was, Smith said that the issue of safety is not driving the BLM’s review.
“It’s not the emphasis behind this,” he said. “It’s really: is the activity appropriate or not?”
As part of its review, the BLM will also be taking a closer look at recreational activities in the Gemini Bridges area, where someone has set up a zip line. Currently, there are no prohibitions on zip lines or other high-adrenaline sports in that area, according to Smith.
“Not unless it damages resources, no,” he said.
According to Smith, any proposals that the BLM ultimately comes up with will be limited in scope.
“We’re not banning these activities across our field office,” he said. “We’re trying to determine where they’re not appropriate.”
Smith expects that members of the public will have the chance to comment on the agency’s Environmental Assessment at some point in the near future.
“We’ll probably finish it within the next few months, I think,” he said.