JARBIDGE, Nev. — Hundreds of people from around the West and as far away as Rhode Island traveled to this remote outpost over the Independence Day holiday to lay claim to a dirt road and rally against federal control of natural resources.
Though the masses of thousands did not materialize, those that came Monday to help reopen South Canyon Road in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest with shovels and sweat said they did so to take a stand against regulatory intrusion that threatens their livelihoods.
Tuesday, protesters planned to use chains, rope and people power to remove a huge boulder blocking access to the road.
Kevin Neal, of Junction City, Ohio, traveled more than three days to take part in the Shovel Brigade protest.
"They're doing the same thing in Ohio," he said of federal authorities. There, he said, farmers are restricted by the designation of a river as wild and scenic.
"They're being regulated to death," the 37-year-old carpenter said.
The event here is the latest fight in a battle between Washington officials and locals upset with federal land policy.
The atmosphere has been so charged that the Forest Service supervisor in charge of national forests in Nevada abruptly announced her resignation in November, citing "hostility and distrust" toward federal employees in the state.
The 500 protesters on the scene Monday were peaceful, friendly and firm in their resolve. For many, it was a family affair. Children played — some tried their hand at shoveling — and dogs scampered about while men and women alike took their turns at hoisting dirt.
"Their fight is my fight back there," said Scott Traudt, 34, a commercial fisherman from Warwick, R.I., who said loggers, ranchers and others like himself who make their living from the land are frustrated by increased government regulation.
"We've had enough. We're all getting unified."
Organized work crews of about 40 at a time were bused into the narrow canyon in shifts to level a rock berm that the Forest Service constructed to block access on the road.
With a year-round population of about two dozen, Jarbidge is remote even by Nevada standards. At 6,200 feet, it sets in a steep canyon surrounded by 10,000-foot-plus towering peaks of the Jarbidge Mountains. Its nearest neighbor is 65 miles away.
The fuss over a 1.5-mile stretch of dirt road near the Nevada-Idaho line might be hard for outsiders to understand. The road doesn't go much of anywhere, just to a few campgrounds, an outhouse and a trailhead to a wilderness area.
But to folks here, South Canyon Road has become the "line in the sand" against federal land policies since it washed out during a flood in 1995, triggering a festering feud between federal authorities and Elko County.
Federal authorities have blocked efforts to reopen the road, fearing any work would damage the stream bed and jeopardize the existence of the bull trout population, which was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1998.
Last week, a federal judge denied an injunction sought by the Justice Department to halt the rally but warned members of the brigade they could be prosecuted if environmental damage occurred.
To guard against that, protesters built a barrier of straw to keep dirt and debris from entering the river while they leveled a rock berm using picks, rakes and thousands of shovels donated by sympathizers from around the West.
"Nobody's in charge, but a few people know what they're doing," said Demar Dahl, Shovel Brigade president.