Utah's Cedar Mesa - an area rich in archaeology located in the canyons of southeastern Utah - is fast becoming one of the most popular backpacking destinations anywhere in the nation. But the wear and tear on the area is becoming increasingly evident.

Which is why the Bureau of Land Management is sponsoring the Cedar Mesa Conference April 24-25 in Blanding. Federal land managers are looking for ways to accommodate the growing number of visitors while still protecting the fragile resources."There are lots of different ways that might be done," said BLM archaeologist Dale Davidson. "But the people who use the mesa are in the best position to give us the best insights into how that should be done."

Officially, only about 6,700 people registered with BLM rangers to hike the canyons, most of them headed into Grand Gulch. Unofficially, about 30,000 to 40,000 people visit annually.

The BLM has prepared a draft management plan for Cedar Mesa that pulls together the cultural and management history of the area, but makes no site-specific recommendations.

"We want the ideas of the public on the plan," Davidson said. "We recognize the public holds this area near and dear to their hearts, and they also have ideas on how it should be managed. We welcome comments on specific developments, pro or con."

The Cedar Mesa has also been a popular destination for archaeologists since the 1890s. The area is unusually rich - some call it the richest archaeological district anywhere in America - in Anasazi cliff dwellings and Basket Maker caves. Artifacts from the area are found in museums all over the world.

In the last 10 to 15 years, the canyons have been targeted by backpackers, drawn by the deep, colorful canyons and the spectacular ruins. But the crush of human feet on the fragile ruins has taken a devastating toll.

Land managers are looking at ways to better disperse visitors, how to deal with the problem of human waste, how to better teach proper site etiquette and ethics, and how to educate visitors as to the rich cultural heritage found in the canyons.

More than 1,700 archaeological sites have been recorded on the Cedar Mesa.

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"We're experiencing all that recreational increase, and with it comes more and more of a need to protect the fragile resources out there," Davidson said. "To do that, we need to plan how to accomplish those goals. We are now at the point of asking for public input as to what their priorities are. As we have noted in the past, our priorities haven't always been the public's priorities."

Davidson notes the problems on the Cedar Mesa did not arise overnight, nor will they be solved in a short period of time. "But we have to get started on the most important problems," he said.

The conference features three workshops dealing with management objectives and constraints, management programs and implementation. Active participation is encouraged.

For more information on the conference, call Davidson, 587-2141.

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