Looking back on the May 10 Recapture Canyon protest ride, which drew nearly 100 motorized users onto a trail closed to vehicles, San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman says he is humbled by the size of the response.
Media outlets from across the country picked up the story. Reaction has been both negative and positive; Lyman said he had to shut down his Facebook page as vulgar comments started to surface.
“The most notable thing about this protest is that it was so notable,” he said May 23 in a phone interview with the Free Press.
“There were parts of the event that left me really, really gratified,” Lyman said. “People were respectful and peaceful and there was a tremendous amount of support.”
But Lyman said he did not anticipate the support of the anti-federal-government contingent and Ryan Bundy, son of Cliven Bundy, a Nevada rancher who in April made headlines when federal agencies unsuccessfully sought to seize his cattle over unpaid grazing fees.
“We planned this event before the Bundy thing,” Lyman said.
When Lyman found out that Ryan Bundy would attend, he knew the event could become volatile.
“I told Ryan Bundy, ‘We are not about grazing our cattle. If you go down that trail, it will look like we are looking for conflict’,” he said.
Lyman said he felt he was between a rock and a hard place. He had originally planned to ride down the closed road himself, but suddenly the national press was watching. He suggested at the rally before the ride that the group instead ride the open-to-motorized trail on the canyon rim.
“We can still make a statement, but not break the law,” he said.
But that suggestion was met with jeers from the Bundy group.
In the end, Lyman and about 100 others rode down the closed trail.
“It means something,” he said. “Nobody has interest in damaging artifacts. The trail has been there for 100 years. Anywhere you go in San Juan County, you are going to find artifacts.”
But the ride drew negative reactions along with support.
“Shame on you, Phil. You masquerade as a County official and blatantly fly in the face of the law. Double effing standard,” said one comment on Lyman’s Facebook page.
“There are thousands of miles of places you can ride your ATVs. There are too many people overweight. Why can’t one trail be for hiking, walking? I really think you have hurt your cause, and turned the public against you. The media is reporting that you rode ATVs on a sacred burial ground. You look really bad,” another wrote.
Others applauded Lyman’s efforts. “Great day and proud you are San Juan’s only commissioner who is willing to stand up and fight for the publics land. Thank you,” one person posted.
Lyman said he has been in close contact with the BLM and the sheriff ’s office. So far, he said no one has been fined for driving on the closed section of road, but he doesn’t know if citations may come from the state level. “People are not flustered by the threat of fines,” he said.
“It all ties in to the heavy hand of the BLM,” Lyman said. “In Blanding you go in any direction and you are on BLM land and when they put up closed signs everywhere, it gets old.”
Lyman held a town-hall meeting May 20 that he said was well-attended. In the end, he said, he is glad he organized the event.
“This isn’t about Recapture. It isn’t about ATVs. It is about the emergency closure. I think they misused the emergency closure,” he said.
“This was a painful decision. You protest when all other avenues fail. I do think we are going to see some better discussions now with the Utes and Navajos and the BLM.”