Bill creating new Utahraptor State Park near Moab passes House, heads to governor for signature

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

ST. GEORGE — Legislation creating two new state parks, including one just outside Moab, is heading to the governor’s desk after the Utah House of Representatives gave the bill final approval.

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

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

HB 257 was sponsored by Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, who also introduced a bill seeking to create Utahraptor State Park during the 2020 legislative session that was ultimately quashed over funding concerns. This time around, it has undergone two substitutes and multiple amendments in the process. 

On Wednesday, the Utah Senate moved unanimously to pass HB 257 in a vote of 25-0, with four legislators marked absent or not voting. 

Sen. Evan J. Vickers, R-Cedar City, told St. George News that research conducted by the Utah Department of Natural Resources and the state parks system demonstrated that Utahraptor State Park presents an opportunity for increasing tourism to the Dalton Wells area. 

“It looks like a really good economic development tool for that area,” he said. “It looks like a real positive thing, from everything I can see.” 

Southern Utah University President Scott Wyatt and his wife Kathy pose with a Utahraptor fossil replica in front of the newly opened Mark and Julie Svoboda Geosciences Building, Cedar City, Utah, May 2, 2019 | File photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News

HB 257 returned to the Utah House for final passage on Thursday, with a vote of 63-9-3. Southern Utah legislators Rep. V. Lowry Snow, R-St. George, Rep. Walt Brooks, R-St. George, Rep. Bradley G. Last, R-Hurricane, Rep. Rex P. Shipp, R-Cedar City, Rep. Phil Lyman, R-Blanding, and Rep. Merrill Nelson, R-Grantsville, all voted in favor. Rep. Travis M. Seegmiller, R-St. George, opposed the bill. 

The bill now awaits a final signature from Gov. Spencer Cox.

The boundaries of Utahraptor State Park will encompass a treasure trove of geologic history containing massive deposits of dinosaur fossils and bones. State paleontologist Jim Kirkland said that past digs have unearthed at least 10 species found nowhere else in the world but Grand County. The first Utahraptor, now the state dinosaur, was discovered at Dalton Wells in 1975.

The Dalton Wells area also features 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. 

The park will encompass both state sovereign lands and State Institutional Trust Lands administration property. In recent years, the area has been plagued by heavy camping traffic along with litter and sanitation issues as a result of increased visitation to Moab and backcountry camping being prohibited on nearby federal lands.

“It’ll really be nice. The area that it’s in has not been well-managed,” said Sen. David P. Hinkins, R-Ferron, the bill’s sponsor in the Senate. “We’re hoping to make it a better experience for people who come to Utah and residents of Utah, a nice camping experience.” 

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

As the representative for Senate District 27, which includes Grand County, Hinkins said Utahraptor State Park presents a welcome opportunity to draw tourism dollars away from the Wasatch Front and into rural Utah, creating jobs for local residents. It will also provide young visitors with resources to learn more about dinosaur history. 

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

Through entrance and camping fees, the parks are expected to generate ongoing revenues of $664,600 to the State Park Fees Restricted Account, $25,400 to the General Fund, $8,000 to other restricted accounts and $33,400 in tax revenues. Starting in fiscal year 2023, an additional $47,500 in annual tax revenues to local governments are projected. 

The bill appropriates a one-time expenditure of $36,500,000 from the General Fund to the Utah DNR during fiscal year 2022 for the creation of both parks. Up to $7.5 million of the appropriation may be used to acquire land in the Dalton Wells area for inclusion in Utahraptor State Park. According to the fiscal note, the total estimated operating costs to the Utah Division of Parks & Recreation are $798,500 ongoing from the State Park Fees Restricted Account, starting in fiscal year 2023.

Utahraptor State Park and Lost Creek State Park will become Utah’s 44th and 45th state parks, and the first established since 2018. 

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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