Fine line between trash and protected relic

Ed Ruland on BLM land along 21 Road north of Grand Junction with just one of the many piles of trash he and other volunteers cleaned up.

Two men, one of them 77 and the other 69, needed a bit of help on Tuesday afternoon in an arroyo north of Grand Junction.

They had unearthed the rusted wreck of an old Chrysler and could use a hand.

Not so much to exhume the remains — the help of the Western Slope ATV Association was available for the asking — but to find out whether they should proceed.

So Ed Ruland, the 77-year-old still agile enough to move easily up and down arroyo walls and with a narrow frame that would allow him to hide behind a tall, thin juniper, and Lowell Stratton, the youngster of the pair, summoned the Bureau of Land Management to the site off 21 Road.

Ruland and Stratton have worked for about a year cleaning up 21 Road, for the most part, a relatively simple task.

The problem they confronted, however, was more ticklish.

To be sure, the Chrysler might have been dumped there, but it might have acquired a kind of squatter’s right to remain there over a 50-year period.

Under federal law, the wreck could qualify as an antiquity and that could mean that moving it would be tantamount to spray-painting a cliff drawing.

The idea, BLM spokesman Christopher Joyner said, is that yesterday’s junk provides clues as to what life was like when what might now be an antiquity was unceremoniously dumped out in the desert.

Ruland cast an eye at a set of bed springs quickly taking on a rusty patina.

“Those bed springs might be historical,” Ruland deadpanned. “We don’t know who might have slept there.”

No problem collecting the bedsprings, said BLM Ranger Mike Jones. Ditto the refrigerator found at the bottom of the arroyo about 150 yards from the road.

And likewise the hot-water heater of relatively recent vintage that lay on its side, peppered with markings, possibly from a 20-gauge shotgun, judging by the spent yellow shells scattered nearby.

The heater itself wouldn’t be hard to move, Stratton said, lifting up an end. Hauling it up the embankment, however, could be a different matter.

That’s where the Western Slope ATV Association can come in.

“We could get six or eight guys and make a day of it,” pulling bulky, unwieldy trash out of some of its hiding places, ATV association member John Lehman said.

As to the Chrysler and some other junk/antiquities, Jones said a BLM archaeologist would have to look it over before deciding what would happen next.

Ruland and Stratton, however, are free to collect the stuff scattered along 21 Road that is obviously junk, Jones said.

There’s plenty to be done on that score.

The desert duo has filled more than 350 trash bags in a year’s time working 21 Road.

Ruland, twice appointed to the Colorado Court of Appeals and retired as a senior judge in Mesa County, started the cleanup effort more than a year ago.

Stratton was looking for something to do when he retired from psychiatry last year.

“I wanted to do something physically active and I approached the BLM,” Stratton said. “They hooked me up with Ed. We both enjoy cleaning things up, I guess.”

For Ruland, there’s some nostalgia associated with his new pastime.

“In the early ‘70s, my kids and I learned how to dirt bike out here,” Ruland said. “It’s a beautiful place. About a year and a half ago, I drove out here on a lark and I couldn’t believe all the trash.

“It’s been fun to make it look like I remember it.”


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