WASHINGTON — Sen. Orrin Hatch wants to add alternate paths used by pioneers to the National Trail System — and designate a new "Trail of the Ancients" connecting some Anasazi archaeological sites in the Four Corners region.
The Utah Republican introduced this week a bill to order a federal study about including in the National Trail System some of the alternative routes for the Mormon Pioneer, the Pony Express, the California and the Oregon National Historic trails.
When those historic trails was originally established, Congress allowed only one point-to-point path for each. The Mormon Pioneer trail, for example, became the route followed by Brigham Young in 1847, although most other Mormon pioneers used other starting points or variations of the path across the plains and mountains.
Hatch has said that only 200 of the 70,000 Mormon pioneers used the exact route marked as the Mormon Pioneer Historic Trail. He has said some variations — including paths used by the ill-fated Willie and Martin handcart companies where many died — would better tell the nation's history.
"Some of our most interesting and important history was made along the variations of the main trails," Hatch said Wednesday.
"We need to make sure that this story doesn't slip through the cracks under a strict interpretation of the current law. For Utahns and other Westerners, these trails are the highways to our history; this legislation will highlight that history, and it will do so without any infringement of the rights of private property owners," Hatch said.
The House and Senate passed slightly different versions of that bill in the last Congress, so it was never signed into law.
During the last Congress, the Bush administration gave lukewarm support to the idea. It liked the concept but said funding for the study should stand in line behind 40 or so other National Park System studies previously approved — plus some needed national park maintenance. That could delay any new trail designations for years.
Hatch also introduced a bill to create a new "Trail of the Ancients" automobile route to link some of the more accessible and significant Anasazi archaeological sites in the Four Corners region. "The history of the Four Corners region is unique and important to Utahns and the nation, and its archaeological sites are remarkably well preserved," Hatch said. "Designation of these historic routes and sites will ensure their preservation and will bolster the economies of small Utah communities along the trail."
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee has scheduled a hearing on both bills for next week.