Hatch proposes national recreation area at Sand Mountain

A group of buggies enjoy a challenging trail at Sand Mountain OHV Area. Hurricane, Utah, date not specified| Photo courtesy of Eric Beard, St. George News

ST. GEORGE – U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch’s office is working on draft legislation that would create a national recreation area on approximately 21,760 acres of land in the current Sand Mountain off-highway vehicle area near Sand Hollow State Park. If passed, the bill would guarantee that the area remains permanently open to off-highway vehicle use.

Creating a national recreation area with language mandating open OHV access in perpetuity would take this decision out of the hands of Bureau of Land Management,  Hatch spokesperson Heather Barney said.

“It would mean that if anyone were to want to restrict access or develop in this area it would require an act of Congress, as opposed to the current BLM authority,” Barney said.

The bill would create the “Hurricane Sand Dunes National Recreation Area,” which would encompass most of the current Sand Mountain OHV area. Historically, the area has been called the “Hurricane Sand Dunes” and “Sand Hollow OHV Area.”

Boundaries of proposed National Recreation Area in the Sand Mountain OHV Area|Map courtesy of Sen. Orrin Hatch's office, St. George News
Boundaries of proposed national recreation area in the Sand Mountain OHV Area | Map courtesy Sen. Hatch’s office, St. George News | Click on map to enlarge

“The bill is currently a discussion draft, meaning we are working with the stakeholders involved to improve the language so that we have something we can all support before Senator Hatch introduces it, or doesn’t, depending on the feedback we receive,” said Barney.

The proposed recreation area encompasses all of the Sand Mountain OHV area above the edge of the plateau, but not the lower part where there are ATV and motorcycle trails, said Utah Public Lands Alliance President Gil Meacham.

“They’re proposing to take everything at the top of the rim, from over by the Hurricane airport, over to the rim above Warner Valley, and from the new Southern Parkway to the rim on the other side – all that area they want to make into a national recreation area with the exception of the 1,200 acres involved in the proposed land exchange,” Meacham said.

The draft bill in its current state specifically excludes a 1,200-acre piece that is part of a proposed land exchange between the county and developer Bob Brennan.

Brennan owns about 800 acres of land in the Green Springs area, and his property is inside the borders of the Habitat Conservation Plan, established to protect the desert tortoise. The county is under pressure to finish up the purchase or exchange of remaining property in the HCP, as a 2015 deadline looms for the renewal of the HCP.

However, the proposed land exchange involving the 1,200 acre property in the Sand Mountain OHV Area is being vigorously opposed by off-road enthusiasts, who counter that there are many other areas in the county which could be traded to Brennan instead.

“That 1,200 acres was never on the BLM’s list of ‘disposable properties,’” Meacham said. “It should never have been considered for exchange.”

If the land trade goes through and the property is developed as planned, it would significantly degrade the off-road experience at Sand Mountain and cause conflicts between residents and users of the OHV area, Meacham said.

Barney said the 1,200 acres labeled “exchange parcel” was left out of the proposed bill because Hatch does not want to interfere with ongoing negotiations between the BLM, the county, and the OHV community.

“The Senator is not taking sides in that exchange,” Barney said.

Hatch’s office is currently gathering feedback from the OHV community and others to make improvements to the bill. Hatch has stated that he will not introduce the bill if it does not have the support of the OHV community, she said.

Off-road enthusiasts and local land use advocates are interested in getting permanent protection for the off-highway vehicle area but have concerns about the proposed bill.

While UPLA and other interested parties have not yet formally responded to the bill proposal, they are generally in favor, with some reservations.

“We have things that we feel like would make the bill more palatable for us. We still feel like it should include the 1,200 acres because it is legally owned by the government at this point in time, so they could certainly do that,” Meacham said, “but, with the bill, we would protect the rest of the area from being lost.”

Besides the 1,200 acres in the proposed land exchange, other concerns expressed by the off-road community include how and by what agency the new recreation area would be managed.

 Almost all national recreation areas are managed by the U.S. Park Service or the U.S Forest Service, and this raises concerns because neither agency is known to be friendly towards off-highway vehicles.

“In the United States, the majority of national recreation areas are managed by the park service. The park service and the forest service are notorious for having a green attitude – ‘the more roads you shut down, the better off your area is going to be.’ As far as mechanized recreation goes, they are pretty ‘anti,'” Meacham said.

Meacham gave the example of the area around Lake Mead.

“(The area around Lake Mead) was designated a national recreation area, and immediately they closed down hundreds and hundreds of miles of roads down there,” Meacham said.

The same thing happened at Glen Canyon, the national recreation area around Lake Powell.

“Over the years since they created the dam and the lake, they’ve shut down pretty much all the road system,” Meacham said.

Similar road closures followed the creation of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

“It would be better if it was managed by the BLM, except that they can sell or liquidate property unless it is a national recreation area,” Casey Lofthouse said. Lofthouse is an off-road enthusiast, Washington County Search and Rescue volunteer and local off-road business owner.

Lofthouse also expressed the desire to keep the area free of buildings and development of any kind, to retain the views and vistas the area currently offers to visitors.

“It would be beneficial to manage the area ‘as is’ without any improvements to infrastructure or additional improvements in the future. This area is at its splendor without any changes or buildings or campgrounds being added to it,” Lofthouse said in a letter, responding to the proposed bill.

We want the bill to maintain the current management and practices for the open OHV area – the current practices of the Sand Mountain Special Recreation Management Area, so it would be still be open OHV and no fees,” Meacham said.

The local BLM office has not had any official notification about the proposed bill, said Jim Tyree, field manager of the St. George BLM field office.

“We’ve heard about something like that, but we don’t have any of the details, and it’ll be interesting to see what comes out of it,” Tyree said. With any pending legislation, the BLM’s Washington Public Affairs office will contact the BLM Legislative Affairs Office, and ask for pros and cons and other feedback, he said.

“They will come to the field from our legislative office, but I have not been contacted yet, no,” said Tyree.

Sen. Mike Lee is working with Hatch’s office on the proposed bill, said Lee’s press secretary, Emily Long.

“It is premature to discuss the details for now,” Long said.

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26 Comments

  • Paul Bottino November 17, 2014 at 8:08 am

    This area should be left exactly like it is now. There should be no land swap. Ultimately anything else will be a loss for the OHV community.

  • Koolaid November 17, 2014 at 8:16 am

    Hatch hatches another cracked up plan. Isn’t it strange this cracked up Hatch was against government ownership of these lands, but now, with Republicans in the house and senate, wants government control of these lands?

  • KWL November 17, 2014 at 9:03 am

    Where can we read the proposed bill? I like the ‘so it would be still be open OHV and no fees’ that exists on BLM ground currently. Unfortunately with the example of State Trust Land that was once open with no fees 30 years ago has been fenced and locked. How many have been to elephant arch north of Washington? It’s hard to get there now because of the fence on State Trust Land. It would be great if open space to be used by all for recreation and whatever could be a permanently legislated free range zone without the worry of getting a trespassing ticket by the state.
    Maybe the the area will look better if they build a subdivision on the land after a handful of realtors make a few million bucks.

    Imagine living in a country free of ‘you can’t touch this’ and a government afraid of it’s citizens.

    • Joyce Kuzmanic Joyce Kuzmanic November 17, 2014 at 12:57 pm

      KWL, if you look under the caption, Resources, at the end of the report you’ll see a link to a PDF of the proposed bill. 🙂
      ST. GEORGE NEWS | STGnews.com
      Joyce Kuzmanic
      Editor in Chief

  • utahbiller November 17, 2014 at 9:36 am

    I like the idea of protecting this area from development and making sure the OHV folks have a place to ride; better ATV trails than another golf course and more sprawl. But,I also think that a reasonable fee should be charged. When people pay for something they tend to take better care of it.

    • Matthew Sevald November 17, 2014 at 1:20 pm

      A fee……for using wide open space….a God-given right.
      .
      What is being maintained or “taken care of”? A giant mountain of sand. The mormons con people to do so much volunteering here that can be taken advantage of by scheduling “clean up” days when needed.
      .
      I don’t ride ATV’s but I would never tax the people who use them when all they’re doing is going out in the wilderness to have fun.

      • Bender November 17, 2014 at 5:53 pm

        At some point, when a resource becomes heavily used in a concentrated area, some kind of management is inevitable. If for nothing else than to provide parking, pick up the trash, provide law enforcement and transport drunken, maimed ATV jockeys to the hospital. See Little Sahara Recreation Area.

      • Meagan Leigh November 17, 2014 at 8:22 pm

        “A fee……for using wide open space….a God-given right.”
        Where in the Bible or Book of Mormon does it say anything about OHV’s tearing up the landscape is a God-given right? Can’t people get of their Arses and take a walk or hike? Zoom around destroy what it took thousands of years to create, disturb the wildlife all in the name of FUN and make sure you are not wearing a seatbelt or helmet, that would be too much gumnit regulation.

  • Billy Madison November 17, 2014 at 10:41 am

    If Hatch gets his designation, this recreation area will be Posted: Closed. These sand dunes will forever be off-limits for recreation. The fancy wording will say one thing but mean something else and the dune buggy people will find themselves looking somewhere else to ride.
    Leaving it like it is is almost as bad. The BLM will eventually see this as a cash cow and set up a guard shack to extract a fee to enter. Heavy handed Rangers will patrol on tax purchased dune buggies, and We the People will bend to their will again.

  • sagemoon November 17, 2014 at 10:55 am

    Wow, I’m amazed Hatch actually had a good idea! It sounds like this area is important to a lot of OHV enthusiasts.

  • PROTECT THE SHEEP November 17, 2014 at 11:07 am

    This is a fine idea. I see no reason why we can’t use it as a nuclear waste dump or new land fill also. Kill two birds right?

  • My Evil Twin November 17, 2014 at 11:17 am

    Something about this just doesn’t smell right. Perhaps it is just because Hatch came up with it. Or perhaps it is because it is such an obvious attempt to throw his weight behind Mr. Brennan by excluding the property in question. Hatch’s statement of not interfering in on going negotiations between the county, the BLM and the OHV community are so transparent! In other words, he is saying “I want to do something to get my name on another bill, but I don’t want to make anybody mad in doing it.”
    Mark my words, if the National Pork Service takes over this area, it will be a very sad day for the OHV community and any others that love to ride up there. They will establish fees, build roads and not allow you to go off of them, they will mandate every facet of every bit of recreation that is done there.
    Actually, the more I think about this, the more I think it is just another “land grab” by the park service weenies.

    • Zonkerb November 17, 2014 at 1:02 pm

      Yeah you know what smells….. YOU…. but you will never make it out there because you don’t the intelligence to drive through a roundabout

      • My Evil Twin November 17, 2014 at 2:47 pm

        Hey man, I’m really sorry about your mom. 🙁

  • Janet November 17, 2014 at 12:54 pm

    The Feds own enough land, especially in the Western part of the country. Utah needs more national parks like it needs an earthquake.

  • Herd November 17, 2014 at 12:57 pm

    A plan of more government interference proposed by a Republican. Ironic.

  • Paul Bottino November 17, 2014 at 2:22 pm

    Great comments everyone. I totally agree. We DO NOT want any federal government control of this land. That’s it end of story. It can only be bad for us.

    • Bender November 17, 2014 at 5:47 pm

      It’s already federal land under federal control PAUL BOTTINO

  • Paul Bottino November 17, 2014 at 2:26 pm

    I cannot believe UPLA is “generally” in favor of this. They should have some serious reservations.

  • Doug Bringhurst November 17, 2014 at 3:29 pm

    HATCH FOR PRESIDENT!!! ways to go.

    • Dana November 18, 2014 at 6:03 am

      Hatch for retirement.

      • Mark Vinclio November 18, 2014 at 3:51 pm

        There is enough tree huggers in Congress Hatch must stay till death and then we’ll freeze him you know like Walt Disney.

  • arrowone November 17, 2014 at 4:09 pm

    Paul Bottino- Isn’t this already BLM land? Do they not have control of it now?

  • beacon November 17, 2014 at 6:03 pm

    Brennan and others have been trying to get their habitat land sold or traded out for years but Sand Mtn is not the answer. This is an area that has been dedicated to OHV use and that should continue. If Brennan and others are allowed to encroach, where will it end? Good for Hatch for doing this. It may be the only thing he’s done that I approve wholeheartedly.

  • Arrowone November 17, 2014 at 9:25 pm

    Most, but not all of it is BLM ground…check out the map. Yellow is BLM; Blue is State

  • Delong November 18, 2014 at 10:38 am

    The State of Utah can’t manage what it has now!

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