Devil’s Canyon Campground, a recreation area on the southeast corner of the Abajo Mountains, near Highway 191, received a new chip seal on its roads in May of this year. This is the first part of a two-phase project funded by the Great American Outdoors Act that also includes improvements to the campsite such as new kiosks, a new brochure for self-guided nature walks, and new marker posts and benches. The educational hiking trail is also being renewed.
The Great American Outdoors Act of 2020 channeled historical spending to meet maintenance needs on public land. The bill provides for $ 9.5 billion over five years to be spent on deferred maintenance projects by the National Park Service, the US Forest Service, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and the Bureau of Indian Education . The Manti-La Sal National Forest, which manages the La Sal and Abajo Mountains and the Wasatch Plateau in central Utah, has begun using some of these funds for projects within its borders.
Manti-La Sal employees have submitted funding applications for eight projects for fiscal year 2021, five of which have been approved. Some are already finished, like the chip seal at Devil’s Canyon. Other improvements will make this campsite more enjoyable and accessible to the thousands of visitors who use it.
“We want to make it ADA-compliant,” said Andrew Orlemann, a civil servant for the Manti-La Sal National Forest, who played a key role in identifying projects for GAOA funding. The current Devil’s Canyon Campground trail is made up of loose gravel that has washed out in places, Orlemann said; a new, more durable surface allows wheelchair access. The campground and trail improvement phase of this project will begin next year.
In 2020, Devil’s Canyon Campground recorded 10,616 visitors, around 1,500 more than the previous year; As of July 28th, 6,442 campers have used the site this year. The cost of the Devil’s Canyon Campground project is approximately $ 111,000. The forest has signed a contract with the San Juan County Road Department to provide the equipment and manpower for the chip sealing phase.
“Projects get a higher priority when we have partners willing to work with us and contribute to these projects,” said Samantha Stoffregen, Public Affairs Officer for Manti-La Sal National Forest. “The San Juan County Roads Department has been a great partner in this.” Work on various projects is carried out by forest service personnel, contractors, and other partners such as the county road and road teams and nonprofits.
Orlemann explained that Manti-La Sal forest officials held several meetings over months to discuss maintenance needs and compile a list of projects, then prioritize that list before submitting it to the Forest Service’s Intermountain Regional Office. (There are ten Forest Service regions.) Regional officials reviewed the list and forwarded it to the Washington DC office for final selection. The Manti-La Sal was allocated approximately $ 813,000 by the GAOA for projects in 2021; The Devil’s Canyon Chip Seal Project was the first GAOA-funded project in the Intermountain region. The entire region, which includes nearly 34 million acres of Forest Service land in Utah, Nevada and parts of Idaho and Wyoming, received $ 28.4 million to fund 78 projects in 2021.
At Manti-La Sal, in addition to Devil’s Canyon improvements, the other four approved projects include the maintenance of campsites throughout the forest, the maintenance of road and trail signs, the rebuilding of roads and campsites in Maple Canyon, and renovations at Gooseberry Guard Station .
The $ 208,000 campground maintenance project will replace picnic tables, fire rings, and concrete slabs, and install gravel lifts at all 18 campsites across the forest if necessary. Such maintenance is particularly necessary in recent years when outdoor recreational activities have increased significantly. Orlemann said that in national forests across the country, visits to scattered campsites rose 40% during the pandemic; Visits to wilderness areas increased by 75%.
Every five years, each national forest conducts an observational study on visitor usage to monitor visitor trends. The Manti-La Sal completed its last study in 2016; the next study is currently underway. The 2016 survey data assumes around 295,000 visitors per year to the Manti-La Sal National Forest.
The road and path signage project will take several years, starting with 578 new signs to replace existing signs in 2021. The Manti-La Sal shares a signage crew with the Fishlake National Forest and therefore only has this staff for part of the field season that the Manti-La Sal has delayed in replacing and maintaining signs. This project is funded with $ 261,000.
The Maple Canyon project is complete. A narrow, winding road leads into the conglomerate canyon, which is popular for camping, four-wheeling, and climbing. Bill Broadbear, Recreation Manager of the Manti-La Sal National Forest North Zone, estimated about 16,500 visitors to Maple Canyon last year, based on receipts from campsites and daytime parking.
“I’m sure we’ll have so many again this year,” he said.
This street was washboarded and dusty; A mag-chloride treated compact gravel lift made the road smoother and safer for $ 115,000. This project was completed by contractors.
The final GAOA project approved for 2021 at Manti-La Sal is the renovation of the Gooseberry Guard Station on Elk Ridge west of the Abajo Mountains. The building serves as accommodation for seasonal workers and volunteers who work in the area. Orlemann said the station was built during the Civilian Conservation Corps era in the 1930s. The updates that must be carried out by contractors include replacing the solar power system and regular maintenance of an old building. GAOA allocated US $ 118,000 for this project.
Manti-La Sal officials will continue to suggest that GAOA funding be available for the next four years. The three projects that were submitted but not approved this year will be re-considered for future rounds of funding: maintenance and repairs at the campground in Joe’s Valley, trail maintenance in the southern zone of the forest and improved road access in the Bears Ears area.
Orlemann and Stoffregen noted that the Washington DC office emphasizes helping underserved rural communities prioritize projects.
“In addition to helping the delayed maintenance of these critical facilities and infrastructures, GAOA will help Forest Service continue to support rural economies and communities in and around national forests and grasslands across the country,” said a July newsletter from Manti National Park La Sal.