Green River treasure threatened by development
The Green River below Flaming Gorge dam is a gorgeous canyon with high rock walls, circling raptors and otter and fish prowling in the gin-clear waters. This canyon is wild, with little to remind one of human development other than a foot trail along one side, and the Little Hole parking lot seven miles below the dam.
The Green is a Mecca for anglers from around the world, boasting thousands of quality fish per mile and serving as a strong economic stimulus for that region of the state. Many aspects of this river attract anglers and recreational boaters, not the least of which is the sheer wild beauty of the place.
Much of the land surrounding the Green is public, most of which is administered by the Bureau of Land Management. However, the School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration possesses the parcel that includes the river immediately across from the Little Hole parking area. SITLA used to own the land that the parking area is on, but traded it to the BLM.
SITLA's purpose is to utilize public lands under its control to maximize profits to support Utah schools. Although other land uses, including leaving land unused, are options, the overarching goal of SITLA is to milk every penny it can from the lands it administers. And most of the time, this is a very laudable goal.
SITLA has been approached by a wealthy out-of-state backer to build an exclusive lodge on the western bank of the Green River, just across the river from the Little Hole parking area. The proposed lease would be for about 356 acres of SITLA land and would include frontage to the river's edge.
This would be the first commercial development within the river gorge itself. This proposed lodge could only be accessed by a long and bumpy gravel road coming north out of Vernal to Diamond Mountain, or by shuttle across the river from the parking area.
The acreage proposed for the lodge is coveted by the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources due to its importance as winter and calving range for deer and elk, and for angling access. The DWR has tried to barter with SITLA for this land plot (much as SITLA bartered its possession of the land on the eastern shore of the river away to the BLM) but apparently these negotiations are at a standstill. Many groups, including my own Trout Unlimited, have protested this lease arrangement, but our pleas have fallen on deaf ears.
There are many fine places to build a fishing lodge, but this area is not one of them. Having a lodge on the western side of the river at Little Hole will damage the entire ethos of the river canyon. Foot access to the western side enjoyed by many, many anglers will no longer be a given. An exclusive lodge such as this, enforcing bank restrictions on public lands they have leased from SITLA, could easily block anglers from walking and fishing from the western shore.
The only access points to both build and maintain this lodge are the gravel road, or a shuttle across the Green River. This level of commercial traffic in either location is unacceptable. This acreage also includes sites of Native American antiquities that may preclude any such development.
Gov. Jon Huntsman needs to step into this fray and bring both of his state agencies, SITLA and DWR, back to the table to work out an equitable land swap. This parcel is too valuable to all of the citizens of the state of Utah to have it restricted to the elite few who would visit this lodge.
This land parcel needs to be deeded to DWR and maintained as the wild and scenic region it is, open to all citizens of this state to enjoy.
John H. Weis is a member of the Stonefly Society of the Wasatch, Utah's oldest Trout Unlimited chapter.