INDEPENDENCE, Mo.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--A Department of Defense proposal to significantly expand the Utah Test and Training Range in Western Utah could significantly impact National Historic Trails, according to T. Michael Smith, preservation officer of the Utah Crossroads Chapter of the Oregon-California Trails Association.
The test range—already the largest supersonic restricted airspace in the continental U.S.—would expand through an administrative transfer of some 625,000 acres of Bureau of Land Management land, and an additional 85,000 acres of other federal land, to the control of the Department of Defense, according to news reports that surfaced in October.
The Hastings Cutoff of the California National Historic Trail—traversed by the ill-fated Donner Party and others in the late 1840s—goes right through the heart of the proposed expanded range area. The Pony Express and Central Overland trails traverse the southern edge of it.
“Despite the DOD’s words to the contrary, we only need look at the present fences, policing, and stay-out signs on the existing test range to see where this might go,” Smith reports.
“While supposedly needed just for flyover purposes, the potential expansion of the adjacent bombing range could have far-reaching negative environmental consequences, if land management goes from the BLM to DOD,” according to Smith. “These could include accidental or intended ordnance drops, road closures, grazing, recreation, mining, geothermal, wildlife and proposed wilderness area losses. As important as the historic trails are, they are hardly the only reason people need to better scrutinize this proposed transfer.”
A recent amendment by Utah Senators Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee to the 2015 Defense Appropriation Bill to transfer the lands to the DOD is an effort to push the transfer through without adequate public debate or environmental review, according to Smith.
“The playa out there is one of the few places in the entire historic trail system where the view and the experience today is just as dramatic as it was for the pioneers who took this so-called short cut to California over 160 years ago,” states Smith. “You can still see traces of it out there today. It’s an important piece of our nation’s historic legacy.”
The Oregon-California Trails Association, headquartered in Independence, MO, is the nation’s largest emigrant trail preservation organization. The Salt Lake City-based Crossroads Chapter of OCTA will be closely monitoring the test range expansion proposal as it moves through the legislative process, Smith assures. Contact OCTA at 816-252-2276 for more information.