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Take Back Utah rally

Thousands demand access to public lands

Published: Sunday, Aug. 9 2009 12:00 a.m. MDT

State Reps. Curt Oda, R-Clearfield, and Stephen Sandstrom, R-Orem, fly a banner for the Culpeper Minute Men during the Take Back Utah rally at the Capitol Saturday. Utahns began marching on State Street at 10:30 a.m. and listened to music and speakers at the rally, which lasted until about 3 p.m.

Barton Glasser, Deseret News

Stretching to both sides of the street, thousands marched up State Street to the Capitol on Saturday hoping for one thing: their American rights.

Farmers, hunters and all types of outdoor enthusiasts upset over the continued closure of forests and other lands gathered on the steps and lawn of the Capitol with resolve etched across their faces.

"If you want to see what it's like to live in a socialist regime, go to southern Utah," said Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, who organized the Take Back Utah 2009 march and rally. "The federal government controls everything."

Protesters and speakers expressed the benefits of a multiuse public lands policy rather than closed access that leaves many without their favorite recreation spots and even some without their livelihood.

"In the next year, we're going to lose even more recreation, and then you cut off access to the people who have businesses, do tours out there," said Rep. Christine Watkins, D-Price. "We don't want them shutting down the oil wells and the mines. That's even more jobs."

Noel helped organize the grass-roots effort in reaction to environmental protests and federal land policies shutting off access. The rally attracted more than 3,000 people on motorcycles, four-wheelers and other recreational and all-terrain vehicles to ride State Street from 500 South to the Capitol.

Besides losing land previously used for recreation purposes, people protested how land restrictions make it difficult to bolster the economy.

"Every ounce of (these restrictions) violate the Constitution," Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, shouted on a stage to the crowd of ardent listeners. "Twelve of the 15 states that have the hardest time raising money for schools are in the West. We don't get the money because we don't control the land."

Along with Bishop, Sens. Bob Bennett and Orrin Hatch, both R-Utah, and Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff walked around the crowds of people eager to express their growing concerns.

"Your voices are going to be heard from these purple mountain majesties to above the fruited plain," Shurtleff said, pointing to the Wasatch Mountains and then toward the distant southern Utah plains.

Shurtleff yelled on stage about actions by the U.S. Department of the Interior to close lands off to people who deserve access.

"Until we decide these road issues, it's supposed to be detente, but the government puts signs on those roads," he said. "In the meantime, the DOI continues to thumb its nose at the courts."

Angry Utahns began marching on State Street at 10:30 a.m. and listened to music and speakers at the rally, which lasted until about 3 p.m.

Darlene Sweeton stayed the entire time with her husband and children, proudly listening to the start of what she hopes will bring reform.

Sweeton, 43, has been horseback riding her entire life and riding ATVs with her family for the past 25 years.

"It's what brings our family together," the Lindon resident said. "We love Moab, Utah County, American Fork Canyon. Those areas are so beautiful. I'd hate not to be able to see it."

e-mail: lgroves@desnews.com

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