Magazine article Newsweek

'Keep It like It Wuz.' (Development vs Preservation of the Burr Trail in Utah)

Magazine article Newsweek

'Keep It like It Wuz.' (Development vs Preservation of the Burr Trail in Utah)

Article excerpt

IN THE LATE 1800S, A RANCHER NAMED John Atlantic Burr, intent upon moving his sheep from summer to winter pasture, cut a mile's worth of switchbacks into the Waterpocket Fold, a dramatic uplift of red and cream sandstone east of Boulder, Utah. After World War II, uranium miners widened the Burr Trail to get their ore out to nearby mills. Over time, Burr's name was affixed to a dirt track that crossed more than 60 miles of spectacularly rugged terrain, dropping 2,500 feet from Boulder to the Bulldog Marina on Lake Powell, not far from the Grand Canyon. It's a romantic notion to retrace that route today across the snow-dusted Colorado Plateau, through some of the most breathtaking landscape in America. So it's a bit of an anticlimax when you turn off Utah Highway 12 at Boulder, one of the most remote towns in the West, and discover ... another highway.

After a classic Western battle between the local government and conservation groups, the first 28 miles of the Burr Trail were paved, and the rest became a patchwork of paved and unpaved sections. Garfield County wanted to breathe some life into a moribund economy. The Sierra Club, the National Parks and Conservation Association and others sought to preserve the Burr Trail's primitiveness as well as the pristine nature of the surrounding country. The resulting road is a monument to environmental gridlock.

In 1987 Garfield County figured it could increase tenfold the meager traffic along the dirt road by paving it. With the decline of mining and ranching, recreation had become vital to the county's livelihood. (By 1994, two national parks that sit in Garfield County, Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef, would attract 2.5 million visitors to this county of 4,000 people.) But when word of the paving reached major environmental groups, they went to court, lobbied Washington add churned out press releases that conjured up a nightmare scenario: Winnebagos and Dodge Caravans cruising along a modem highway. …

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