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About Utah Back Country Flying

by Steve Durtschi

For the record, the UBCP was "born" during a conversation on 122.9 MHz, at 7,000 feet, southbound, around Snowville Utah in July, 1997. Several of us were returning from another memorable flight from the Idaho back country. As the basin and range of northern Utah was coming into view, and with the miracle of personal air transportation to the Idaho Wilderness behind us, fresh on our minds, someone asked, "What's wrong with us? Idaho is such a wonderful place. The recreational landing strips are secure and there is an organization in place to protect and maintain them. We have a handful of strips as beautiful as anything in Idaho. Why aren't we doing anything to protect them?" That was the first time, to my knowledge, that anyone suggested we organize in an effort to protect Utah's backcountry landing strips. In the past this was easy. We would fly in once or twice a year, and, mostly with hand tools, clean them up. It was simple, inexpensive, and it kept the landing fields open and safe. As times changed, groups came into existence who decided that these facilities intruded on their own personal "wilderness experience", and they agitated for their closure. As everyone knows, these folks can become quite outspoken and powerful. Suddenly, it wasn't so simple any more.

Out of curiosity, the next day I called the BLM in Price and asked them what they could tell me about the landing strip at Mexican Mountain. I discovered that, even though this airstrip preceded modern-day land use planning rules, thereby 'grandfathering' it, land managers at the BLM, had mistakenly recorded it as abandoned, and it was now engulfed in a Wilderness Study Area. About the same time, we learned that the BLM had rescinded the airplane right of way at Mineral Canyon - a strip long used by on-demand charters to ferry rafters to and from the Green River, as well as the general flying public. It soon became clear that if we did not speak up, the Utah recreational landing strips could disappear completely.

Meetings were held, letters were circulated, fly-ins were attended, and people took the time from their personal schedules, to learn the tools for dealing with bureaucracies. Soon we had a fledgling but vibrant community of backcountry aviation enthusiasts. On any weekend, the airwaves of 122.9 fairly crackled over Utah with different groups of pilots flying to the backcountry destinations of their choice. They shared a common interest and a common goal even though many of them had never met. That goal was to save the rustic, backcountry flying experience of camping along side one's airplane, for our children to enjoy as well. Since then, UBCP has prevailed in lawsuits to protect these airstrips, that have reached all the way to the Interior Board of Land Appeals (IBLA) in Virginia, and many airstrips that have been returned to the Utah Aeronautical Chart.

The combined effort of individuals has been the key to our success. These air strips exist today for only one reason: pilots decided to organize and do whatever hard work it took to preserve them. My advice is, 'get involved'. Wherever you go, be an ambassador for aviation. I believe that the UBCP's greatest asset is the diplomatic way we have presented our case for continued access to these magnificent airstrips and the relationships we have fostered with various Federal and State land management agencies. I have found that for the most part, the people in these agencies are good, honest folks who will respond kindly to the sincere questions from the public.

Did you know that just a short walk from the air strip at Fry Canyon, which served the Radium King and Happy Jack mines, to name a few, is a nostalgic roadhouse left over from the fabulous 50's, the Fry Canyon Lodge? There are ancient cliff dwellings, a magnificent slot canyon for canyoneering, and many other interesting hikes as well? Hidden Splendor was owned and named by a famous woman air race pilot of the 1930's, who holds more speed and altitude records than any other American. Have you seen the petroglyphs a hundred yards from the air strip at Mexican Mountain? How about the grandeur of the Green River at sunrise, taken in from Mineral Canyon? Did you know there is a rock carving of a simple cross made by Kit Carson in 1843, five years before the Great Basin had a single permanent resident , and still visible a short hike away from a backcountry air strip? Backcountry flying in Utah provides so much sense of discovery, that over years of flying there and exploring it, my list of mysterious places keeps getting longer.

We hope to promote flying in Utah, and we welcome you to our state. We recognize the inherent hazards and risk involved in back country flying and will strive to minimize this by disseminating information on airstrip conditions, and canyon flying techniques. This website is one aspect of our effort. We believe that a significant potential exists in our state to develop a handful of remote landing fields and we hope you'll come fly with us and join the effort.


Utah Back Country Pilots
Skypark Airport
1887 South Redwood Rd. #16
Woods Cross, UT 84087

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