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Reporting from the St. George area focused on local government, public lands and the environment, indigenous issues and faith and spirituality.

The Clock Is Running Out On An Effort To Create A New State Park North Of Moab

Mary McGann
Courtesy Moab Friends For Wheelin’
The view of Dalton Wells from Sevenmile Rim. The proposed Utahraptor State park would cover approximately 6,500 acres in Grand County, just east of Arches National Park.

Time is running out to create a new state park north of Moab. The bill passed the Utah House of Representatives 62-10 last week, but it still has to make its way through the Senate.

The proposed Utahraptor State Park is located on land near Arches National Park.

The land surrounds the Dalton Wells Quarry. That’s where the bones of the Utahraptor — the state dinosaur — were discovered, along with those from a number of other species unique to the area. The land is also home to an old Civilian Conservation Corps camp that was later used as a Japanese Internment camp during World War II.

An illustration of a map.
Utah Department of Natural Resources
There are over 50 miles of single-track trail located in the proposed Utahraptor State Park. The area, currently called Dalton Wells, abuts Arches National Park.

The area already has opportunities for recreation. It is home to the Fallen Peace Officer Trail, which is used for motorized recreation, and the Sovereign Trail System, which includes over 50 miles of single track trails.

But people are ruining the landscape according to Grand County Commissioner Mary McGann.

“There are fire rings everywhere. There is human waste. There is trash. There are people who are permanently camping there,” she said.

The Grand County Commission supports the creation of the state park, according to a resolution it passed in January. And the county has pledged to match $18,000 in donations made by local businesses and residents, according to Lee Shenton, president of the Utah Friends of Paleontology chapter based in Moab.

That will do little to offset the project’s huge price tag, though.

Legislative analysts said it will cost $25 million to buy the land and develop the park. That could be brought down to $15 million by a land swap, according to the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy. He said the State Institutional Trust Land Administration, which currently owns some of the land, is open to the arrangement. The rest of the land is owned by the state and managed by the Utah Department of Natural Resources.

A photo of Dalton Wells.
Mary McGann
The Dalton Wells area is listed on many free camping websites. Grand County Commissioner Mary McGann said visitation has negatively impacted the landscape.

Eliason defended the bill on the floor of the Utah House last week.

“This is a unique opportunity for Utah to say we can protect public lands, we can provide public recreation resources for our citizens,” he said.

He added that the park’s upkeep can be paid for by revenue generated by camping and entrance fees.

“It’s one time funding,” he said. “I believe there's a strong commitment to bolster our state parks … especially since we’ve seen them overrun and heavily utilized in the past year.”

If the bill does pass, a number of groups in Moab said they would take the opportunity to partner with managers to help educate visitors.

Dalton Wells was the site of a Civilian Conservation Corps camp in the 1930s. The men stationed there built wells, roads, and small dams.
Moab Museum
Dalton Wells was the site of a Civilian Conservation Corps camp in the 1930s. The men stationed there built wells, roads, and small dams.

“We could have interpreters at the [Civilian Conservation Corps camp] site,” said Forrest Rodgers, interim executive director of the Moab Museum. “We could also have more interpretative signs there that help explain the CCC’s impact in Utah, and the contrast between the [Japanese internment camp] at Dalton Wells and the [Topaz internment camp in Delta, Utah].”

Shenton said his group would love to collaborate with the park managers to protect the dinosaur bone quarry.

“The quarry itself doesn’t look like much,” he said. “But one of the things we thought would be informative would be to bring back replicas of [the bone] specimens and display them in a small garage like structure, to demonstrate how many new discoveries were made there.”

The Senate Natural Resources Committee plans to take the bill up on Tuesday, according to McGann. That leaves just four days for it to pass the full Senate before the end of the session.

Kate joined KUER from Austin, Texas. She has a master's degree in journalism from the University of Texas at Austin’s Moody School of Communication. She has been an intern, fellow and reporter at Texas Monthly, the Texas Observer, Quartz, the Texas Standard and Voces, an oral history project. Kate began her public radio career at Austin’s NPR station, KUT, as a part-time reporter. She served as a corps member of Report For America, a public service program that partners with local newsrooms to bring reporters to undercovered areas across the country.
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