An Ode to Tom Gnocek

Thanks to the Emery County Progress for printing my thoughts about the late Tom Gnocek. Read it on the Progress website here or below:

An Ode to Tom Gnocek

I learned two very important things from Tom Gnocek. One is that some environmentalists are more motivated by ideology than a genuine concern for the environment. The other is that BLM’ers are people too!

Before his passing, Tom Gnocek worked for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in Price, Utah. I first met Tom in the mid 1990s when the BLM was creating a travel plan for the San Rafael Swell. Tom was pushing a plan that would have closed the Devil’s Racetrack, Eva Conover road, the Coal Washes, Fix-It Pass and most of the Dick Brass Motorcycle trails. And hundreds of miles of other roads and trails to boot.

To say that I hated Tom Gnocek would have been a colossal understatement. I think I used the term “Jack-Booted Thug” once in reference to Tom during my time working for an Off Highway Vehicle advocacy group.

I regret that now. I must admit that once the travel plan was final he worked cooperatively with the OHV community on the same routes he tried so hard to close.

Don’t misunderstand. I hated what Tom wanted to do and the way he wanted to do it. But over the years I got to know him as a person. Tom had a quick wit, a great sense of humor and he loved his son very much. At least for my part, I came to think of Tom as a good friend.

During one of these “field tours” where big-shots from Washington D.C. and Salt Lake City fly in to “look at the issues,” Tom and I spent hours together in a truck. We drove with a conga-line of rented SUV’s, bouncing down dirt roads, stopping every so often so some big-shot could speechify about how best to manage Emery County’s back yard.

After a while our conversation veered into our own personal motivations for what we did and how we viewed public land management. Suffice it to say, Tom and I did not see eye-to-eye.

I explained that one of my key motivations was an appreciation for the rural West, especially the customs and culture of rural Utah. I told the story of a reservoir near Escalante, Utah as an example. The dam was in bad shape and needed replaced. The reservoir provided critical water storage, flood control and recreation. The local community’s proposal would have expanded the reservoir further on to BLM land.

Naturally, the environmentalists were threatening lawsuits and wanted the dam totally decommissioned. I told Tom I couldn’t imagine how anyone could be so mean. That kind of thing motivates me to fight the environmentalists and their efforts to close roads and trails.

Tom said maybe the town of Escalante shouldn’t have been there in the first place. He explained that many in the environmental movement think a great environmental catastrophe had been committed when European settlers crossed the Mississippi and settled the West.

It was at that moment I realized a lot of environmentalists don’t really care if a particular road or trail is causing damage to the environment. My dirt bike could hover over the earth silently and emit only native grass seed and pure spring water – and they would still try to kick me out!

Recently the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) and BLM announced a settlement to a lawsuit had been submitted to the US District Court in Utah. If the settlement is approved, the San Rafael Travel Plan Tom and I battled over will have to be re-done completely. As I gear up and get ready to fight again keep the routes open I’m reminded of Tom.

I may despise what these environmentalists and their lawyers want to do and I definitely hate how the BLM’s bureaucracy favors the litigious radical environmental groups and against local communities and OHV users. I understand my adversaries are driven by an ideology I do not agree with. But they have lives and families and some of them are actually very nice people.

It’s weird but somehow that makes fighting for Emery County’s roads and trails a bit easier.

RIP Tom Gnocek.

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