Women’s Wilderness Group Harassed, Threatened in Utah



Beating up on grandmothers? Recently, some anti-wilderness advocates in San Juan County, Utah, decided that freedom of speech wasn’t good enough for them. They felt so desperate to be heard that they turned to vandalism and threats to amplify their voices.

The target of this rage was group of elderly women. That group is called Great Old Broads for Wilderness and is primarily composed of “old and gray” women, though younger women and men are welcome to join the group. Its mission is to encourage elders to advocate and educate on behalf of the environment — in particular, public lands — and to hike on them whenever possible.

Because of their advocacy for wilderness, greater protection for public lands, and closing unauthorized ATV trails, the Broads have become controversial in some rural western areas. During the last weekend in September, many members of the Broads gathered for one of their biannual multiday car campouts, a few miles outside the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park. At these events, called “Broadwalks,” the group brings in speakers who also lead hikes and discuss environmental issues in that area.

On the evening of September 28, a banner outside the group’s campsite was vandalized. The next night, members received threatening messages and were also locked into their campsite, potentially putting their safety at risk.

The Broads were camping on private property, the Nature Conservancy’s Dugout Ranch, surrounded by Bureau of Land Management land. In order to get to the remote campsite, participants had to turn off the main county road, drive down another road, and then go through a private gate and into the camp. The Broads had hung their vinyl banner on the gate to let members know where to turn. Sometime in the night, it was slashed and spray-painted. Mostly, the group took all this in stride, making jokes about San Juan County residents picking on a bunch of grandmothers and “little old ladies.”

On Sunday morning, however, a member of the group who awoke early to leave the campsite and return to work found the exit gate padlocked shut and an old-hag Halloween mask, doused in fake blood, hanging in effigy. Underneath the mask was a milk jug with the inked threat: “Stay out of San Juan County. No last chance.”

Veronica Egan, the organizations’ executive director, was forced to hike about a mile to the ranch house and find an employee with bolt cutters who could come cut the chain.

Closing off vehicle access out of a campsite is a threat to the safety of any group. When it happens to a group of older women, the risk is even greater.

“The last Broadwalk we were on, we had two people that went to the hospital,” says Rose Chilcoat, associate director at the organization.

This is not the first time residents of San Juan County have threatened the Broads. In 2010, when the group was out with land managers examining an illegally created trail in Recapture Watch, they encountered signs bearing a skull and crossbones that read: “Wanted dead or alive: Great Old Broads for Wilderness. Great Old Broads not allowed in San Juan County by order of BLM and the Sheriff’s office.”

A day before their September campout, a local weekly in Blanding, the Blue Mountain Panorama, ran a two-page screed against the group. In the piece, members of the local ATV group were told where the group was camping and encouraged to take “a field trip to the GOB’s camp…Perhaps an ATV parade (on existing trails near their campsite)…might be appropriate.”

The piece lacked a byline and attempts to contact the paper went unanswered. What is clear is the article’s inflammatory tone.

The Great Old Broads is not the only group experiencing hatred in San Juan County. Federal land managers in charge of enforcing policies on public land have also experienced harassment from locals.

Environmental coverage made possible in part by support from Patagonia. For information on Patagonia and its environmental efforts, visit www.patagonia.com. In affiliation with High Country News.

{ 6 comments…read them below or write one }

  • Kit

    I have to say I am so sick of the arse backwards people of Blanding that me and all of my buddies who visit the area are forever going to take our money and spend it Moab and Monticello instead.

    Between this, the pot hunting, the ATV roads, and the endless battles against the Federal Government, I feel that anyone who mountain bikes, climbs, camps, or does anything in the SE Utah area should take their tourist dollars elsewhere and let the town fester among themselves.

    Boycott Blanding

  • Craig Rowe

    Holy rednecks, Batman. Uneducated, too. Or maybe that’s redundant.

    These violent, meth-powered thugs can’t come face-to-face with a group of active elderlies and they expect people to respect their antiquated attempts at bullying? Don’t they have some pictographs to de-face somewhere?

    Jesus. With a little “j.”

  • Veronica Egan

    It’ll take a lot more than a sticky Halloween mask and some spray paint to slow the Broads down in San Juan County! We find it hard to believe that these clowns are more than a few malcontents, but the rest of the county is afraid to stand up to them. Thanks for the positive messages, folks!

    Broadly,
    Ronni

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