At the end of September, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) finalized its motorized vehicle travel management plan for the Labyrinth Canyon and Gemini Bridges area outside of Moab. This plan, years in the making and taking into account thousands of public comments, strikes a thoughtful balance between motorized and non-motorized recreation; balance that is long overdue and urgently needed.
The Labyrinth Canyon and Gemini Bridges area–known and beloved far beyond Utah–is home to irreplaceable cultural sites, important wildlife habitat, and unmatched quiet recreation opportunities. It encompasses the Labyrinth Canyon section of the Green River as well as its many side canyons, including Ten Mile, Hell Roaring, Spring, and Mineral Canyons.
Labyrinth Canyon itself is a unique gem where more than 40 miles of the placid Green River flow through towering redrock canyons. It provides a multi-day wilderness experience that is suitable for families in canoes and rafts and can be enjoyed by boaters of all experience levels.
Like much of Utah, this landscape has seen a dramatic increase in motorized recreation over the past decade, leading to a dense web of motorized routes crisscrossing this area and dominating the landscape. It has also resulted in significant harm to fragile riparian areas; the wetlands along rivers and streams that are among the most important and productive ecosystems in the entire state. Motorized use has also caused well-documented and ongoing damage to biological soil crusts, cultural sites, and wildlife habitat.
BLM’s new travel management plan brings much-needed balance to this remarkable place. It closes some dirt trails to protect cultural sites, riparian habitat, and the experience of non-motorized recreationists, while still allowing motorized use on over 800 miles of other routes. It ensures public access to the area while also preserving the backcountry and minimizing damage to public lands.
Since BLM issued its decision, misinformation has been rampant from those who are unhappy with the outcome. Unfortunately, there are some who will not be satisfied unless every inch of Utah’s public lands are blanketed in motorized routes. That’s not a sustainable future and not what the vast majority of visitors want to see and experience.
The BLM’s plan continues to provide motorized and non-motorized access to the Green River and stunning overlooks. It provides access to trailheads. It provides ample motorized recreation experiences. It does not affect motorized use on the over 4,000 additional miles of dirt roads and trails in the greater Moab area.
The BLM is a multiple-use agency, which means it is required by law to manage for many different uses and resources. It does not mean that every use is available everywhere, all the time. Instead, the agency must balance competing resources and resource users. This means making adjustments along the way as to what uses should occur where.
Motorized vehicles provide one type of outdoor recreation opportunity, but that use can have an outsized impact on the land and other, non-motorized recreationists, especially those seeking quiet time with family and friends. Because of that, it’s critical that motorized vehicle use is carefully planned and reasonably managed.
The BLM’s travel plan is an important step forward to bring balanced management to this awe-inspiring stretch of redrock country. Over the next several years, the BLM must complete eight more motorized travel plans across Utah. These plans should ensure access to trailheads, scenic overlooks, and recreational opportunities while protecting the very reason people want to visit such remote places in the first place: to enjoy the unspoiled beauty of Utah’s public lands.
For more information and to thank the BLM for protecting Labyrinth Canyon, click here.