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Revamped Parks Advisory Panel Includes Retired Utah Homebuilder

Photo of vehicles at Arches National Park entrance.
Judy Fahys / KUER
The National Park system citizen advisory board has been revamped with 11 people with business backgrounds and Republican Party ties. Some critics say the panel should have more diversity of expertise and opinions to tackle problems like overcrowding.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has appointed a Utahn to the revamped advisory board for the National Park system.

Ellis R. Ivory led Ivory Homes, the state’s largest homebuilder, for two decades until his retirement in 2001. He’s currently the director of This is the Place Heritage Park, a state park that operates as a hybrid private nonprofit with substantial state funding. He did not respond to requests for comment.

Ivory joins a group that until the last year was dominated by academics and has been steeped in controversy. Last January, most members resigned in protest of Zinke’s handling of the citizen board’s business and priorities.

Last week, after the National Park Service announced the new members, critics complained that the new parks advisory board lacks diversity and includes too many business executives with strong Republican Party ties.

“Our concern isn’t necessarily with the folks who’ve been chosen — some of them are huge national park advocates,” said Kristen Brengel, vice president of government affairs for the National Parks Conservation Association. “We were hoping that the secretary would have chosen people from different backgrounds and with varying perspectives.”

The National Park System Advisory Board has traditionally guided the park system on everything from raising donor money to using science to manage the parks. Brengel said this new group brings needed expertise to address problems the parks face now.

The park system includes 418 sites that see more than 330 million visitors each year. Utah is home to five national parks: Arches, Canyonlands, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef and Zion.

For decades, park officials have grappled with a deferred maintenance backlog that now exceeds $11 billion. A plan to raise fees at the most popular parks was scrapped earlier this year because of widespread public opposition.

The new advisory board’s first meeting was set for last Wednesday but was canceled during funeral services for former President George H.W. Bush. The next meeting hasn’t been rescheduled but is not expected until March at the earliest, according to the Interior Department.

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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