The following is a diary by Jim Gale, founding member of Park Rangers for Our Lands, on a two-day July 2013 trip near Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park in Grand County, Utah. Joining Jim was Maite Arce, president of the Hispanic Access Foundation, Maite’s family; Ashley Korenblat, owner of Western Spirit Cycling Adventures; and state and federal park rangers.
I arrived for lunch in Moab with Kate Cannon, superintendent of a group of southwest national parks including Arches and Canyonlands, who briefed us on the oil and gas history in the area. She and her staff are working to collaborate with the BLM on the oil and gas Master Leasing Plan (MLP). She emphasized how this could be precedent setting as it will be the first MLP and a model for other states to follow.
Maite Arce President/CEO of Hispanic Access Foundation, had just arrived in the area and shared with us some of her experiences at Dinosaur National Monument. She is touring parks across the southwest with her family and blogging to get the word out about how our parks are threatened from oil and gas drilling and that the national parks need to be on equal ground with oil and gas leasing.
Mark Miller, chief of resources management, joined us for a tour of spectacular arches and views that we shared with visitors from all over the world. He showed us how close the proposed leasing would be to the boundaries of the park and how it would impact the views and visitor experience. Right now, the visitor experience, I would say, is awesome.
One of the stories shared was how Wilson Bates, park superintendent in 1960s and 1970s took his daughter to the top of a viewpoint and asked her to look out. He asked her what she saw? She said, “The park and nothing else.”
Bates replied, “That is good, you cannot see the road and that is how I planned it.”
We must keep the power of the landscape as an essential part of the visitor experience. We all agreed that this could be lost with a thoughtless approach to oil and gas development.
Ashley Korenblat, owner of Western Spirit, a bicycling adventure company also joined us for the tour. She has been sharing the history of oil and gas and her involvement. Ashley is trying to to find common ground and joint solutions with other recreation groups like OHV’s. Ashley made us a great picnic dinner, and Maite’s boys climb the rocks in every direction.
Prior to the evening campfire program at the campground, Maite shared with Erica Pollard, National Parks Conservation Association program lead for SW Utah, how she has been able to work in 17 cities across the U.S.
Hispanic Access has evaluated its work and learned how to be very effective in helping Latinos to manage paperwork involved with taxes and emigration, to name a few. They have found that by using trusted voices of the community, such as priests and ministers, they can organize and present seminars and individually track the success of tens of thousands of people.
The campfire program by Park Ranger Glen was about unsolved mysteries and stories of the people of the Southwest. Lightning and thunder set the perfect ambiance, but unfortunately the lightning was getting too close for our safety so we had to stop the talk. We all tried to take photographs on the return trip to Moab. Along the way we talked to a visitor who was saving a rattlesnake from being run over by moving the snake off the road, a nice end to the evening.
The next morning we met to carpool to Dead Horse State Park. I had just been this way in March and now at least four new drill rigs were in operation, just off the road to the park.
We could see the burn-off flames torching on the horizon and it was only 8 a.m. Roads were posted with NO PUBLIC ACCESS isgns. So much land has been leased for oil and gas and the drilling, but only some of it is being drilled, said Ashley. The jobbers (a petroleum marketer) get the lease and then sell it at a later date.
Maite’s husband Ted and their sons Luke, Noah and their best friend Jonathan took a 9-mile ride with Ashley. Maite, Erica, and I hung back to talk with Crystal, the Assistant Director for Deadhorse State Park. She has a small staff and this is just one of 43 State Parks in Utah.
They have 200,000 visitors a year and we all asked, what is happening out there with all of that drilling and equipment? This is a distraction from when people arrive in the park to enjoy the spectacular turn of the Colorado River where water cut through time, recorded as rock layers of the Colorado Plateau.
Ashley shared her knowledge of the landscape. We were all in awe. Sadly, we also could see the potash evaporative ponds required for making high fructose corn syrup.
Crystal remarks included that oil and gas officials have asked for comments and do listen to their concerns about night sky and viewshed issues with the industrialization outside both Canyonlands National Park and Deadhorse State Park.
As Park Superintendent Cannon so eloquently states, our park visitor experiences far exceed the boundaries of the park and that distant horizon is what we need to protect.
We parted with a plan to work together to help Latino and all communities across the nation learn how they can protect their national parks from oil and gas drilling. Hasta Luego!