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A scene near Muddy Creek near Reds Canyon in the San Rafael Swell of Utah.

When my family started Holiday River Expeditions in Green River in 1966, we were drawn by the wildness of the landscape, the promise of adventure and a desire to connect people to the land. The beauty of the desert seemed endless and full of possibility, and it has been a privilege and a joy to spend our lives revealing it to people.

Decades of guiding river and mountain biking trips through Desolation Canyon, Labyrinth Canyon and the San Rafael Swell have taught us that the land is not endless, but a precious and finite resource that must be intentionally protected. We were optimistic when we learned this year that Sen. Orrin Hatch and Rep. John Curtis were developing legislation to shape the future of Emery County’s public lands. And while we recognize that much work has been put into the effort, we are concerned that it simply falls short for some of the wildest places in the county. Though we are a prominent stakeholder, we have not had the opportunity to engage with Rep. Curtis and Sen. Hatch on this legislation. This is our attempt to be heard, from the perspective of a family business, on what remains at stake in the Swell.

The thing that we care about is the thing we know best: water. It is water that carries our rafts down the rapids of Desolation Canyon and the meanders of Labyrinth Canyon. The whole of the Green River Basin directs our lives and our business, but decisions made far away affect the sanctity of these rivers. For example, the current draft of legislation from Sen. Hatch protects only one side of Labyrinth Canyon. We already have trips booked for next year on Labyrinth; how strange to think we might have to tell our guests that the west side of the river was found worthy of wilderness protection but the east side was not. I assure you that our guests do not see it that way.

We are likewise concerned about Muddy Creek, a gem of the San Rafael Swell that will likely find itself imperiled by pollution of many kinds — light, noise and just plain old contamination — if the bill passes in its current form. Though the legislation allows some protection for Muddy Creek, it once again fails to protect the entire system, and the downstream effects, so to speak, will be deleterious to the landscape. The bill’s aims of adding development and infrastructure are at odds with even the protection it allows. We need to separate ATVs and limit the proliferation of roads from our remaining wilderness, and to protect wholly the areas we choose to protect while we still can.

We all make an impact, and we recognize our own. We’re lucky to operate on this world-class resource and we strive to leave as little trace as we can. But we must all work together to make our impact a positive one, to decide together to protect the entirety of Labyrinth Canyon, the entirety of Muddy Creek, because it is the right thing to do.

1 comment on this story

There is something deeply spiritual here, and it’s evident on the faces of our clients who have come to this landscape for the first time. Part of our mission as a company is to get the folks who come on our trips to recognize how special these places are. We’ve done that for three generations, and with good legislation for Emery County, we could do it for many more. But first, Sen. Hatch’s bill simply must fully protect places like Muddy Creek and Labyrinth Canyon. There is too much at stake to fall short now.