Johnny Behind the Rocks is a popular mountain biking area outside of Lander on BLM land. The agency is working to protect the area from all future mining. (courtesy of Bob Wicks/BLM)

You can still stake a claim on Bureau of Land Management land in Wyoming, just like in the days of the Gold Rush. Under the mining law of 1872, you can dig for gold and other precious minerals, even if the site is next to a popular mountain biking trail. That’s unless the area has been specifically protected.

Prospecting and mining for precious minerals such as gold and silver is still authorized under the General Mining Act of 1872. Mining claims may be made on most federal public lands, unless they are specifically withdrawn by the federal government. (courtesy BLM)

Johnny Behind the Rocks, a popular mountain biking area in Fremont County, is one of those  areas the Lander BLM office thinks should be protected. Officials want to make sure no one tries to mine for uranium or bentonite or any other minerals there.

Kristin Yannone, BLM planning and environmental coordinator, has led the effort to withdraw about 5,000 acres of public land from attempts to mine for gold, gypsum, and other minerals. It’s not an unusual action in Wyoming. Many sites along historic trails in Wyoming are protected, and about 40,000 acres of bighorn sheep habitat near Dubois can’t be mined. Nationally, actions are underway to protect sage grouse focal areas from mining on BLM lands.

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However, it is somewhat rare in Wyoming to remove mining opportunities for recreation purposes.

Yannone is not aware of any recent or existing claims in the Johnny Behind the Rocks area, but there have been claims in the past. The only way the BLM can deny someone’s right to develop a new claim is if it can prove it would cause unnecessary degradation to the public land. Just causing land disruption normal with mining isn’t enough.

“If someone wants to mine a sage grouse lek, there’s nothing the BLM can do about it,” Yannone said. “In order to take away that right, we have to withdraw those lands from operations under the mining laws. Otherwise we have no discretion to say ‘no, you can’t mine there.’”

Johnny Behind the Rocks began as a series of illegally built mountain bike trails. The BLM worked with the mountain bike community to halt illegal building and riding and instead create a network of sustainable trails that wouldn’t wash-out or cause erosion.

The Lander BLM office proposes to withdraw about 5,000 acres of public land from attempts to mine for gold, gypsum, and other minerals, in order to protect the Johnny Behind the Rocks mountain biking recreation area. (courtesy of Bob Wicks/BLM)

Rio Rose, owner of the Bike Mill in Lander and trails coordinator for the Lander Cycling Club, has worked on developing the area for about eight years. Since adding signs and new trails its popularity has grown steadily. There’s about 20 miles of mostly intermediate trail in the area, Rose said. It offers beautiful scenery and flowy, smooth riding.

Rose and others have donated countless man hours helping to build the trail system, working with the BLM. Even one mine could ruin what has taken years to build.

“It would be pretty tragic,” Rose said.

The BLM recognized years ago the area was important to the community and has worked to develop and protect it, first making it non-motorized and now trying to withdraw it from potential mining. Since June, when the BLM filed a notice in the Federal Register, the area has been closed to mining for two years. If the Secretary of the Interior approves the agency’s application to remove Johnny Behind the Rocks from mineral mining, it would be protected for 20 years.

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The agency is hosting a public meeting from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. July 25 at the Fremont County Library in Lander to discuss the mineral withdrawal plan. BLM staff will explain the process and give notice to anyone who might want to mine.

The public comment period on the proposal ends in September. Comments can be given at the public meeting, or by email to kyannone@blm.gov — include “JBR Mineral Withdrawal” in the subject line. Comments may also be mailed to BLM-Lander Field Office, ATTN: Kristin Yannone, 1335 Main Street, Lander, WY, 82520.

Johnny Behind the Rocks is a popular mountain bike and hiking area in Fremont County, in part, because of scenery like Johnny Falls. (courtesy of Bob Wicks, BLM)

Kelsey Dayton

Kelsey Dayton is a freelancer and the editor of Outdoors Unlimited, the magazine of the Outdoor Writers Association of America. She has worked as a reporter for the Gillette News-Record, Jackson Hole News&Guide...

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3 Comments

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  1. I don’t really have a specific comment on the Johnny Behind the Rocks area, but another popular mountain biking & other recreation site near Lander, The “Bus”, has some trails that some might classify as “rogue”. Furthermore, most of the trails are actually on State Trust land when I think a lot of the users incorrectly believe BLM is the primary public agency manager. Should the State Lands grazing lessee so desire (and I’m not implying s/he is making any such demands), the recreating activity could be curtailed or eliminated during the spring & summer grazing season, and for sure there is big conflict “in waiting” should there be any mineral lease activity at the Bus on State Trust land (lots of stories everyday in Wyoming media on the State’s urgent need to “….develop more revenue sources….”. Several years ago State Lands & BLM tried to initiate a land exchange process along the Lander Front to better match high-recreation (or mineral) value public lands with the appropriate public land manager, whether that be BLM or State Lands (BLM for recreation, State Lands for mineral development). WyoFile should do a follow-up story on that topic to let the public know what is (or isn’t) happening there. From what I’ve gathered, lots of talk between the public land agencies, but little or no action.

  2. As a former biker and outdoor enthusiast I hope that the BLM can set aside more areas before Trump gets elected as the Republican Platform will undoubtedly end the BLM and the Department of interior all together to the like of Halliburton and Big oil. Hopefully the people of this country see and let the RepulicanS that we won’t let t h at happen, it’s time to finally protect our National Public Lands for future Americans

  3. Mining is not necessarily incompatible with biking. I am an avid cyclist as well as earn my living in the mining industry and I know for a fact that the two can coexist. Mining under the 1872 Mining Law does provide the proponent certain rights, but it is not an unfettered right. The permitting process is a years’ long endeavor that identifies environmental, recreational, and other resource concerns. Mitigation is a common by-product if avoidance is not possible, and most mining companies want to leave a positive legacy, if for no other reason than to retain society’s permission (some of us live here, too).