‘Don’t think you can hide and do your stuff’: Backcountry deputies make a difference in Washington County

ST. GEORGE — Over the last year the Washington County Sheriff’s Office has brought on a handful of deputies whose primary purpose is to patrol the county’s backcountry and provide additional manpower to the county search and rescue team.

L-R: Washington County Commissioners Adam Snow, Gil Almquist and Victor Iverson, St. George News, Utah, Oct. 19, 2021 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

In a Washington County Commission meeting held Tuesday, county officials said the work of these “backcountry deputies” has had positive impacts, particularly the wake of the commission’s adoption of regulations governing dispersed camping on unincorporated and public lands within the county in August.

“They have been very busy since that new camping law you guys came out with,” Washington County Sheriff’s Sgt. Darrell Cashin told the commission Tuesday.

According to the new regulations, dispersed camping is defined as camping anywhere within unincorporated Washington County or public lands outside of a designated camping location.

County officials said this kind of camping hadn’t been considered an issue until increasing visitation to the county by tourists made it one.

Overlooking Warner Valley from the Hurricane Cliffs, Washington County, Utah, date not specified | Photo by Julie Applegate, St. George News

Visiting campers, some simply not knowing any better, ended up camping on private land or disrupting ranching operations in areas like Warner Valley. Other dispersed campers had seemingly set up a long-term residence in some remote part of the county and stayed there multiple weeks or months at a time.

Since the passing of the new county law, the backcountry deputies have been busy informing people of the law and moving them along, which Cashin said has been met with appreciation from private property owners and ranchers.

Washington County Commissioner Victor Iverson said he has heard the same from county residents.

“I’ve also received comments (from those) who are out there running cows. They appreciate very much that the deputies are there,” he said. “I think as we do it, it’ll make the whole environment out there better, make it more family friendly so it’s more enjoyable for everybody.”

Washington County Commissioner Victor Iverson, St. George News, Utah, Oct. 19, 2021 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

In addition to patrolling the backcountry of Washington County, Iverson said they also make runs up to Kolob Reservoir and help enforce the new regulations governing camping that took effect in May for that area.

Residents there have told the commission the presence of the deputies, along with the new regulations, has helped counter what had originally been seen as an out-of-control influx of visitors who were overrunning the area.

A deputy is also assigned to patrol the Red Cliffs Desert Reverse. This was originally requested by the Habitat Conservation Advisory Committee, the group that helps direct the management of the reserve, when the new Zone 6 was added to the existing reserve in connection with the Northern Corridor.

Cashin noted that one of the deputies who was patrolling in the desert reserve Monday night came across a stolen vehicle with three teens inside. As a result, this deputy was able to take the teens into custody, impound the stolen vehicle, gather evidence and get the teens put in juvenile detention.

“Had those deputies not been there, they (the teens) probably would not have been caught last night,” he said.

“I want you to know that it is showing there are jobs for them (the deputies) to do,” Cashin said. “There is law enforcement to do in those backcountry areas where no one is getting – they’re doing them. … It’ll just take time for people to know that, yes, we’re going to be out there, so don’t think you can hide and do your stuff. We’re going to come find you.”

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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