Bill proposing new Utahraptor State Park near Moab gains traction, moves to House

Illustration by Julius T. Csotonyi of Utahraptors attacking prey in a quicksand pit | Image courtesy of Jim Kirkland, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — A piece of legislation creating a new state park to celebrate Utah’s state dinosaur and protect natural resources in the Moab area is moving to the House floor. 

A reconstructed Utahraptor skull on display at DinoFest, Salt Lake City, Utah, 2018 | Photo courtesy of Jim Kirkland, St. George News

Utah State Park Amendments, designated as HB 257 in the 2021 Legislature, proposes the creation of Utahraptor State Park in the Dalton Wells area roughly 15 miles northwest of Moab. The 6,500-acre park would offer visitors day-use facilities, 80 campsites with water and power hookups and trail systems for off-roading, mountain biking and hiking.

State paleontologist Jim Kirkland said the Dalton Wells area is a treasure trove of dinosaur history with massive deposits of bones. Past discoveries include at least 10 species found nowhere else in the world but Grand County. The first Utahraptor fossil was unearthed at Dalton Wells in 1975. 

“It’s a great resource,” he said. “People come from all over the world.”  

The proposed park also encompasses a site on the National Register of Historic Places, the ruins of a Civilian Conservation Corps camp from the 1930s that was later used during World War II for the internment of Americans of Japanese descent. Kirkland said that in recent years, the land has been plagued by heavy camping traffic, litter and sanitation issues as a result of increased visitation to the Moab area and backcountry camping being prohibited on nearby federal lands. 

On Thursday, Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, presented HB 257 for approval by the House Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Committee in a meeting conducted electronically. A panel of witnesses spoke in support of the bill, including Moab Museum director Forrest Rodgers and Mary McGann, chair of the Grand County Commission. McGann presented a unanimous resolution passed by the commission in support of Utahraptor State Park to aid with management of resources in the area and mitigating the impacts of expanding tourism. 

Jaw bone of a Utahraptor found in the Dalton Wells area, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of Jim Kirkland, St. George News

According to the fiscal note, the creation of Utahraptor State Park could incur a one-time expense of $25,659,800 from the General Fund during fiscal year 2022 for property acquisition and construction costs. The operating costs are estimated at $448,500 annually from the State Park Fees Restricted Account, starting in fiscal year 2023. 

Through entrance and camping fees, Utahraptor State Park is anticipated to generate ongoing revenues of $450,600 to the State Park Fees Restricted Account, $17,300 to the General Fund, $5,500 to other restricted accounts and $22,800 in tax revenues. The fiscal note also projects $34,200 in annual tax revenues to local governments, starting in fiscal year 2023. 

Eliason acknowledged the cost of establishing a new state park as the proverbial “dinosaur in the room” that ultimately killed the Utahraptor State Park bill he sponsored during the 2020 Legislature. He said that creating a state park in the Dalton Wells area, however, presents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the Legislature to protect cherished natural resources on land already owned by the state. The proposed park encompasses a combination of state sovereign lands and State Institutional Trust Lands Administration property.

“There’s extremely few opportunities where the state owns significant parcels of land that are suitable for a state park,” Eliason told the committee. 

HB 257 received a favorable recommendation in a vote of 7-1-6. The sole dissenting vote was cast by vice chair Rep. Casey Snider, R-Paradise. 

Two Southern Utah legislators, Rep. Rex P. Shipp, R-Cedar City, and Rep. Phil Lyman, R-Blanding, sit on the House Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Committee. Shipp voted in favor of the bill, while Lyman was among the absent members. 

Utahraptor fossil replicas on display at the Mark and Julie Svoboda Geosciences Building at Southern Utah University, Cedar City, Utah, May 2, 2019 | File photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News

In an interview with St. George News, Rep. Travis M. Seegmiller, R-St. George, expressed concern about the estimated costs of the project. He said he would prefer that other funding options, such as private sector donations, be explored instead of placing the burden entirely on Utah taxpayers. 

“Given the high price tag for this new state park, I would prefer for more innovative funding methods to be pursued so that the new park would not be only funded by taxpayer monies,” he said. 

Rep. Walt Brooks, R-St. George, told St. George News that he is likely to support HB 257 and believes it stands a significant chance of passing in the House. Brooks said only looking at the fiscal impact for the first year is “a little shortsighted” given that the park would be likely to produce ongoing revenue for the state given the ever-growing demand for outdoor recreation options. 

“I think that we should have more opportunities and more access for the community to go and enjoy some of the great places we have,” he said. “A lot of it we tend to preserve by locking it down, and I think that we should be better stewards and preserve it by using it properly.”  

HB 257 also proposes the creation of Lost Creek State Park in Morgan County. The new park would incorporate Lost Creek Reservoir, a popular fishing spot located 10 miles northeast of Croydon. 

If the bill passes, Utahraptor State Park and Lost Creek State Park would become Utah’s 44th and 45th state parks. The most recently established park is Echo State Park in Coalville, designated in 2018. 

HB 257 will next move to the Utah House floor for its third reading.

For a complete list of contacts for Southern Utah representatives and senators, click here.

Check out all of St. George News’ coverage of the 2021 Utah Legislature here.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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