Recreational Aviation Foundation Issues Call To Preserve Utah Airstrips

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The Recreational Aviation Foundation (RAF) issued a call to action requesting pilots submit feedback on a proposal from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) regarding the closure of 16 airstrips in Utah’s Bears Ears National Monument (BENM).

According to the RAF, the Bureau of Land Management’s plan would restrict aircraft operations to only the Bluff Airport and Fry Canyon Airstrip—effectively closing the other 16 airstrips within the BENM pending the development of an implementation-level travel plan by the BLM.

The RAF is urging pilots to submit positive comments on preserving these “recreational assets” noting that “all 18 of the airstrips have existed and have been in use for the past 40-70 years” and that none of them should be closed or banned without evaluating the merits of each.

The deadline to submit comments is June 11, 2024.

Amelia Walsh
Amelia Walsh is a private pilot who enjoys flying her family’s Columbia 350. She is based in Colorado and loves all things outdoors including skiing, hiking, and camping.

20 COMMENTS

  1. The current young generation will be the last one to enjoy our national system of local and back woods airstrips, airfields, and airports. Pressure on suburban airports and remotes strips alike targeted for closure.

    Who would have thought kids growing up in the 80’s would have been the last generation to run around and play outdoors. Change comes from a distance then all of a sudden happens.

    • Dave, having flown back country professionally I understand the impulse to keep Utah BLM airstrips open.

      Your question “who would have thought kids growing up in the 80’s would have been the last generation to run around and play outdoors?” presumes post 80s generations will be the last to be able to run around and play outdoors. My granddaughters played in real sand boxes and still run around and play outdoors as did I and neither they nor I needed BLM airstrips to do so. We were more down to earth than that as can and should be present and future generations. Your assertion is pure hyperbole.

      There is a difference between utility use of back country airstrips and amateur ninja/4- wheeler style destructive and accident prone aircraft use of public use airstrips. Sorry to rain on your parade.

      • I actually appreciate the perspective. California parents were terrified to let their kids outside to run around the neighborhood. People were frightened or likely overly frightened of child abductions. It was weird raising kids in post late 80’s. Parents had to make appointments with other parents for kids play dates. No more getting on the bike and ridding up the street or kids playing in groups outside. Now kids are stuck at home isolated with digital devices.

        I’m very glad your grandkids have an outdoors opportunity.

  2. It would be helpful to know the reason(s) why the BLM wants to close the airports. Noise complaints from ground-based visitors? Possible safety concerns from too much traffic? Pilots doing stupid things like buzzing other visitors or camping areas? Eighteen airstrips in a relatively small area like around a national monument seems like a lot. But if the area is that active for air traffic, it seems like the mass closing would cause a safety issue by cramming all that traffic into only two fields. Sounds like a potential turf war between the BLM and the FAA.

    • Remember that this “monument” consumes over 1/4 of San Juan county and many thousands of square miles. Certainly not what most of us consider a “monument.” This is so far out in the middle of nowhere that traffic, both on the air and on the ground, is very sparse. They just want to restrict access to these areas as much as they possibly can.

  3. You’re right John. Restricting access is “their” game. No indication why said access needs restricting. It’s already restricted simply because of its remoteness.

    All about control.

    Note: I Am not a conspiracy theorist. Conspiracies are everywhere and that’s not a theory.

  4. The Bureau of Logging and Mining probably has some commercial entities chomping at the bit to tend to the areas in a responsible manner…

    • Hmmm… That was supposed to be bracketed with “sarcastic” tags, apparently s & /s are interpreted as ‘strikeout’ not sarcasm.

  5. I also am curious as to the reason the closure of these back country airports is being mooted. Is it a matter of the cost of maintaining the strips—i.e. routine mowing and policing up of ‘deadfalls’ or whatever other hazards might exist (e.g. holes caused by prairie dogs or other rodents; picking up trash left behind by irresponsible visitors, etc.). Bandying about ‘conspiracy theories’ is not helpful. If anyone has any insight into this, please enlighten us. I am sure there are pilots who live out west (I live in the southeast part of the country) who might have their finger on the pulse of what is going on re Utah and the BLM’s decision to close 16 of 18 back country airstrips in just one federal preserve.

  6. These airstrips are very useful for dropping off hikers and campers by aircraft. I was on a kayaking trip down the Green River one year and a friend of mine who couldn’t get off work at the start of the trip was dropped off mid-trip by airplane using one of these backcountry dirt strips. I have landed at a selection of these strips in my plane and have enjoyed day hikes and camping on several occasions. Recreational flying may seem frivolous to some, but outdoor recreation of any sort gets us out of dirty overcrowded cities to experience the beauty of the remote parts of our country. Unlike dirt biking, airplanes leave no mark on the backcountry when they depart.

  7. Recreational flying, like motor racing, motorboating, off-roading, and pretty much all motorsports are going to have to come to an end pretty soon for climate change reasons. Our carbon footprint is out of control and needs to be addressed ASAP. It’s time to open the spigots; this parade NEEDS raining on.

    • Dude, Go troll somewhere else. Have you been to China lately? The smog is so bad there are many days I can’t see across the street from our Beijing office. Wall Street firm Blackrock recently funded 54 NEW coal fired power plants in China! Barking up the wrong tree.

    • Well, there it is… the obligatory “we have to return to the Stone Age to save Mother Gaia” drivel.
      I’ve been to China. I’ve been to Russia. These are places that make you feel sick just by breathing. Where you must drink bottled water. The USA WAS that way when I grew up in the ’60s and ’70s. Sound environmental regs put into place in the ’70s has made this country cleaner and safer over the subsequent decades so that now we enjoy the wonders of our nation as never before! However, the current crop of Chicken Little Climate Crazies, usually those too young to remember the smell from car exhaust as you walked down the street, or the sight of a river on fire, have bought into the enormous Climate Change Industry’s manufactured crises and want to bar our citizens from enjoying God’s wondrous creation that is now cleaner than ever before!
      FOLLOW THE MONEY, dude! It will always lead you to the REAL motives behind this manufactured disaster movie. The truth is that yes, a lot of the world is a s**thole that needs to clean up their act. Here’s another truth: the U.S. is NOT in that group.
      Stop being the Useful Idiot, go out and enjoy this great country and stop trying to ruin everyone’s fun!

      • “Chicken Little Climate Crazies” and “Useful Idiot” = “I have nothing of actual value to add to this discussion”

        I grew up in the ’60s and ’70s, too. Can we please all just stick to the topic and not have to exchange tribal dog whistle comments after every article?

  8. Are they really airports? I don’t see any marked and designated airports in the Bears Ear National Monument on the VFR chart or in my GPS database. Maybe since I live out here in the flat land middle of the country, I am unaware of back country airport data bases but if they are useful airports it would have been great to have them on the charts so I could find one in an emergency when I transit past the area.

  9. RAF has a spectacular record of volunteerism in helping to maintain access to back country airports (private, restricted, emergency, government-owned). They often love the remote airstrips so much that they form “work parties” with the “owners” of the airstrip to assist in their maintenance–even to the point of construction of “pilot shelters” or privies–all at no charge to the owner/operator.

    RAF volunteers really “walk the walk” when it comes to doing what they say they will do. Many aviation organizations are “top-down” in management–management gives direction to the lower levels. With RAF, it is usually “Bottom Up”–the members suggest ways that RAF can help improve access–they contact RAF “State Liaisons”–who then push the issue up to the higher levels for action. This results in very little overhead costs and minimal paid staff.

    It’s just a VERY EFFECTIVE advocate for back country aviation–RAF simply “gets things done” with hardly any staff or overhead. When they helped us to implement new strips on farms and public land here in Minnesota, I asked how they were funded. Chairman John McKenna laughed–“we have only a couple of paid staffers–everyone else is a volunteer. If you think we are doing a good job, go ahead and give us a donation–and if you think we are doing a REALLY good job–think about giving us ANOTHER ONE!”

    The result–RAF EARNS the donation by doing the work FIRST. Like most pilots, I belong to several aviation trade groups and associations–but RAF gets my vote for the organization that gets more done for the least amount of money (AND HAS FUN DOING IT!)

  10. The 18 existing airstrips in the Bears Ears NM have been in use for 40-70 years and used by recreational pilots for airplane camping, hiking and other low-impact use. Two of the 18 airstrips have FAA identifiers and are shown on aeronautical charts, but the rest are not. The other 16 are backcountry airstrips that are near dirt roads, but somewhat or a lot remote from public campgrounds, etc. I asked the BLM and there have been no noise complaints about aircraft using any of the airstrips. Ever. The BLM has decided to lump all aircraft together in the Bears Ears NM plan, and restrict all aircraft to landing and taking off from just 2 of the 18 airstrips. “All aircraft” includes paramotors, powered parachutes, drones, helicopters, commercial flights (sightseeing, film making, etc… not airlines), as well as fixed-wing airplanes. The main reason is that the BLM is concerned that noise might become a problem in the future, even though it is not a problem now. Most of the “all aircraft” fly in a localized area and/or at low altitude, which could be bothersome to some visitors. Thus, if “all aircraft” are restricted to two airstrips that are next to paved highways, noise shouldn’t be a problem. Right? The noise from a private, non-commercial, fixed-wing aircraft flying to or from one of the other 16 airstrips for peaceful quiet recreation in the Bears Ears NM is temporary and transient, not persistent like some of the other “all aircraft” might be. The RAF is working hard to preserve all of the 18 airstrips in the Bears Ears NM so that they can continue to be used for recreation now and for generations to come. You can help by submitting your personal comment to the BLM to request that these existing and historic airstrips remain open for recreational use by private, non-commercial fixed-wing aircraft.

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