Following NPS order, local officials looking to keep ATVs, UTVs out of Arches

Curtis seeks consensus on the matter from locals

Grand County Council Chair Evan Clapper calls on a representative from Senator Mitt Romney’s office (R-Utah) as Rep. Curtis Wells (R-Utah) looks on during a discussion among local officials on Tuesday, Oct. 8. Arches National Park Superintendent Kate Cannon attended the meeting and talked about a recent policy change that could bring off-highway vehicles into Utah’s national parks. Photo by Carter Pape

A recent order by Acting Regional Director of the National Park Service, Palmer “Chip” Jenkins, to allow off-highway vehicles such as ATVs and UTVs into Utah’s national parks is positioned to possibly stall out when it is scheduled to go into effect Nov. 1.

Park and local officials looking to keep down the noise in Moab’s highly popular national parks, Arches and Canyonlands, are looking to enforce local policies that preempt the entrance of OHVs into the protected lands.

Arches National Park Superintendent Kate Cannon, who attended a public meeting Tuesday, Oct. 8, with Rep. John Curtis (R-Utah), the Grand County Council, the Moab City Council and other local and regional officials, including from the Bureau of Land Management, said that she was already working to keep OHVs out of the park.

“[In the past,] we acted through our own regulations to preclude the entrance of those vehicles into the parks, and that has stood for the last 11 years” Cannon said. “Now, there’s a proposal that that be changed, and we’re working right now to avoid that happening.”

Cannon went on to say that it was her opinion that the use of OHVs in Arches “would be detrimental to the experience of visitors there largely because of the very significant noise that they make.” She said that park rules regarding noise in the park have historically been used to keep OHVs out of the parks, preventing them from violating those rules, and she is looking to keep those rules intact moving forward.

Local officials are also looking for support from U.S. Congress through Curtis, who represents Grand and surrounding counties, on the matter, that he might pressure officials at the Department of the Interior to rescind the order or otherwise nullify its enforcement. He appears to be amenable to it, in contrast with other U.S. representatives from nearby districts.

“To the extent that there could be a resolution from the counties or the cities or both, that is a very, very powerful tool,” Curtis told local and regional officials. “If I’m going to have any influence with Kate [Cannon’s] boss, or Kate’s boss’s boss’s boss, that is a really powerful tool for me and also gives me, a little bit, the authority to speak on your behalf instead of just guessing where the consensus is.”

Curtis’ willingness to represent Moab and the rest of the district in opposing OHVs’ entrance into Moab and Utah’s parks contrasts with that of his colleague, Phil Lyman (R-Utah), whose district includes San Juan County, including parts of Canyonlands National Park. Lyman is behind the push to allow OHVs in the parks.

Following Jenkins’ OHV order late last month, Lyman created a post on Facebook to “applaud” him and played up cultural divisiveness over the issue.

Lyman said in the post that “the UTV community” had been “denigrated by progressives with an agenda,” and signaling that the policy change could represent renewal, on the other hand, for “the UTV community who ride respectfully but who don’t back down to the spiteful tactics of haters.”

Note: This story has been changed to clarify Cannon’s position on the OHV matter. She said that she hopes to keep OHVs out of the parks but that she would follow Jenkins’ order if it is not rescinded or changed by its effective date, Nov. 1.