An ATV rider in the Gold Butte Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC), west of Mesquite, Nevada. The Gold Butte road is a designated back country byway (BLM)
An ATV rider in the Gold Butte Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC), west of Mesquite, Nevada. The Gold Butte road is a designated back country byway (BLM)

Back Country Byways—Uniquely BLM

By William T. Civish

When Cy Jamison became the BLM Director in 1989, he told the recreation staff that the Bureau needed to build better relationships with nonprofit groups to help us improve our recreation program.

At that time, the U.S. Forest Service was receiving considerably more funding for its recreation program than the BLM was.  With Director Jamison’s directive in mind, Del Price, a Washington Office recreation planner, and I met with the Forest Service folks to pick their brains about why they were having so much success.  One subject they discussed with us was their successful use of the National Scenic Byways Program to develop partnerships and acquire grant dollars.

Del and I both realized that the majority of BLM-managed roads did not meet the paving requirements to qualify as national scenic byways; however, they certainly did meet the scenic criteria.  With this in mind, and with the knowledge that Americans have a love affair with motor vehicles and the outdoors, we hit on the idea of “back country byways.”  We developed a set of criteria that would allow a road to be considered.  First and foremost it had to have scenic qualities.  Second, it needed to showcase multiple uses of one or more resources, as specified in the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA).  We knew that this could be an important tool to help educate the visiting public about how the public lands are working lands and about the economic benefits they provide.

We had on several past occasions tried to establish a working relationship with the American Recreation Coalition (ARC), based in Washington, DC, but we were unsuccessful.  However, when we briefed Derrick Crandall, the coalition’s president about the concept of the National Back Country Byways Program, he was very receptive.

With Crandall’s help, we were successful in obtaining Isuzu and Farmers Insurance as contributors to the development of the program.  They provided funding for the kiosks that were put up along the byways.  We held a competition with several engineering schools to develop the kiosk design.  The winner received a $2,000 scholarship.

Gold Butte in Nevada was the first road to be designated as a national back country byway in June 1989.  This 65-mile scenic road highlighted wildlife, petroglyphs, and sandstone cliffs.  Historic mining for gold and copper met the working public lands criteria.  The Las Vegas District Office hosted a dedication ceremony that was attended by Director Jamison and about 500 supporters. 

As a side note, when I became the Safford district manager in 1993, the office was in the final stages of completing a controversial land use plan that had generated some negative feelings and mistrust towards BLM.  The office had also designated the Black Hills road as a national back country byway and was developing a dedication ceremony for its kickoff.  By involving many local user groups, including ranchers, off-highway vehicle enthusiasts, environmental organizations, and local governments, in this daylong celebration, much of the mistrust was laid to rest.

BLM’s National Back Country Byway Program has been well received by the visitors to BLM lands and 58 roads have been designated to date.  By any measure, the program has been a success.

Bill Civish’s BLM career spanned 40 years, during which he held numerous positions in Utah, Alaska, and Nevada.  From 1986 to1993 he was branch chief for recreation and cultural resources in Washington, DC.  He then served as the district manager in Safford, Arizona, until retiring in 2007.