Utah is full of magical landscapes – the billowing forests up north to the fiery red rocks of the south. This state has one of the most diverse landscapes in the country. During the past year, we both had the opportunity to experience the sheer canyon walls of Labyrinth Canyon near Canyonlands National Park in southern Utah. For Meridian Wappett, this trip was the last piece of normalcy before her world shut down due to COVID-19. It gave her a sense of strength as she rowed her raft for days on end, and a sense of peace watching the first rays of sun bask the steep canyon walls as she cooked breakfast in the morning. For Summer, it was the first piece of backcountry wilderness she got to experience. She spent a week playing in the Green River, hiking along the red cliffs, thriving in a brand new environment that soon started to feel like home. It sparked her love for the outdoors and it ingrained a sense of duty to protect the Utah desert.
Labyrinth Canyon is a 45 mile stretch of the Green River that was first explored by adventurer Major John Westley Powell in 1869. He kept a detailed journal of his time in this canyon and coined the name Labyrinth “There is an exquisite charm in our ride to-day down this beautiful canyon…we are all in fine spirits and feel very gay, and the badinage of the men is echoed from wall to wall. Now and then we whistle or shout or discharge a pistol, to listen to the reverberations among the cliffs… we name this Labyrinth Canyon.”
Labyrinth Canyon is a designated wilderness. Wilderness areas prohibit the use of motorized vehicles within their boundaries and is the highest level of protection land can receive in the U.S. The surrounding areas of Labyrinth Canyon; which include slot canyons, arches, Native American art, and spectacular sandstone formations; is one month away from being designated as a wilderness. The bill designating this area as wilderness is the largest wilderness bill in the past ten years.
On Thursday last week, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) rushed to issue a lease to allow drilling within the soon designated wilderness area. The project will allow extensive construction in the usually quiet Labyrinth wilderness, including road building, well construction, pipelines, infrastructure, and building a 10-acre processing facility on nearby Utah School Trust Lands. This drilling would be for helium, which has similar impacts of oil and gas drilling.
We are writing this Op-Ed to ask you to please reach out and make a comment on or before Wednesday, November 4th. You can make a comment using a premade message, or by writing your own, at https://p2a.co/V5DN0kO. This process will take less than five minutes, and we ask you to please take the time to preserve this magical canyon.
This part of the state is considered by many to be the wildest and most untouched area still available. While you may not have personally experienced this particular place, we urge you to think of a place you love. Maybe this is the wilds of Alaska, the backcountry of the Grand Tetons, or even just our backyard of Cache National Forest. Our public land is being threatened. Our public land is at risk of industrialization. It is our duty to protect it, are you willing to do your part?
*To learn more about this issue and similar issues, check out Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) at https://suwa.org/
By: Summer Vaughn and Meridian Wappett