University of Utah to Act as Steward of Range Creek Canyon

Range Creek Canyon was an unknown archaeological site to a select few for the last century, but has recently gained a lot of recognition. It has some terrific remnants of the Fremont culture which disappeared about eight centuries ago. The land was owned by Waldo Wilcox who recognized the value of the sites and objects on his land, and kept. He sold the property to the state of Utah in 2001 for $2.5 million.

Given all of the investigation of looters in the region in recent months, it is perhaps worth remembering not all ranchers in the West view heritage as an exploitable resource. Arguably, the sites and objects were better cared for under Wilcox’s watch when nobody knew about them. In 2007, a piece for the Denver Post notes the looting of some of the sites after they were publicized.

Now the University of Utah will exchange some of its other trust lands for stewardship of part of the Canyon. Among the remnants in the canyon are ancient settlements, grain storehouses, and rock paintings. Perhaps more careful protection will be possible, but currently there is one caretaker who spends 9 months there every year.

From the AP:

Artifacts from baskets to tobacco bundles suggest human life showed up in Range Creek hundreds of years earlier and lingered longer, but significantly, the large population seemed to virtually vanish by 1,200 A.D., for reasons not fully understood. Metcalfe said the canyon was occupied by the so-called Fremont people, descendants of the continent’s original Paleo-Indians. As a culture, the Fremont were distinguished by their style of basket weaving, animal-claw moccasins and dual survival strategy of farming and hunting. Yet little else is known about them, including their ultimate fate — the conventional explanation of drought is coming under question. The farming-dependent Anasazi south of the Colorado River also disappeared about the same time, for reasons archaeologists struggle to explain. Modern American Indians tribes insist they simply absorbed the ancient people. To gain control of Range Creek, the University of Utah is giving up about 4 square miles of deer and elk habitat next to the Gordon Creek Wildlife Management Area in Carbon County. That parcel is part of the university’s trust lands granted at statehood. In return, the Division of Wildlife Resources will relinquish 2.3 square miles of parcels on Range Creek’s canyon bottom. “It seems like a perfectly good idea to us,” said John Andrews, the No. 2 ranking official at Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration, which is acting as a broker for the trade. Andrews said his agency will hold title to the former ranch lands in Range Creek Canyon, but that the parcels will be controlled by the University of Utah and folded into its own set of trust lands, which are separate from the state’s. Public access, now strictly controlled, won’t change significantly under land covenants and congressional legislation approving the purchase of Range Creek Canyon, which was later transferred to the state, he said. Metcalfe said the university plans to rework some of the rules of public access to make research and the protection of sites a higher priority. Metcalfe supervises surveys and selective digs by graduate students at Range Creek, which is guarded by a locked gate. A university caretaker spends nine months of the year in the canyon, which is snowbound during winter.

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

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