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The case for Utahraptor State Park

Creating a sixth state park in Utah would protect the dinosaur quarry and other historical sites.

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A Utahraptor skull reconstruction is displayed during a press conference at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Friday, Feb. 14, 2020, to discuss HB322, which would create Utahraptor State Park in the Dalton Wells area near Moab.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Grand County is home to many amazing places, as we all know. One of these iconic sites is the Dalton Wells and Willow Springs area; it’s home to a valuable dinosaur quarry, historical sites and a remarkable trail system. 

And it is in danger of losing much of what makes it unique if something isn’t done.

The Utah State paleontologist has said the area is home to the most important dinosaur site in the United States because of its massive deposits of dinosaur bones. The quarry has yielded fossils of 13 new species, including the first Utahraptor discovery, which is now the official state dinosaur. At least 10 species are found nowhere else in North America.  

This area is in the National Registry of Historic Places. During World War II there was an internment camp for Japanese-Americans and a camp for a Civilian Conservation Corps crew was in the area during the Great Depression. Evidence of both remains and plaques memorialize the locations.

While the area is valued by paleontologists and historians, it also is adored by mountain bikers, dirt bikers and hikers. It is host to over 50 miles of multiuse trails, including the Fallen Peace Officer Trail, and the Sovereign Motorized Single Track trail system. 

Sadly, this amazing area is experiencing enormous damage. It is heavily utilized for recreation and camping. During busy events in Moab, there is potentially up to 100 camping units in the area. This is all without any current camping or restroom infrastructure. 

This lack of amenities is causing significant damage to natural resources. With the close proximity and easy access from the main highway, combined with limited recreation management, the area is being spoiled. Unauthorized roads are being created, even in areas where it is a posted revegetation area.  

Juniper trees are being chopped down. Dispersed camping has led to the creation of many rock fire rings. Some of the fire rings are using fossilized dinosaur bones. Litter is scattered though out the area. The indiscriminate disposal of human waste is not only unsightly — it is a health hazard.

State Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, and state Sen. David Hinkins, R-Orangeville, are sponsoring a bill, HB257, to turn this precious area into a state park, named after a dinosaur that was discovered here and nowhere else: Utahraptor State Park. The creation of a state park is costly. This year there is extra money for outdoor recreation, giving the bill a chance at passing.  

To help encourage the Utah legislators to vote in favor of the Utahraptor State Park, HB257, we are gathering tax deductible pledges to demonstrate our support. The bill passed the House and is now in the Senate. Until the Senate passes it and Gov. Spencer Cox has signed it, we will not ask for your pledge.  

The pledge form can be found on the discovermoab.com website. Let’s help protect this amazing area by helping to make the Utahraptor State Park come to fruition.  

Grand County will match contributions up to $50,000. We will know by Friday, March 5, if Utahraptor State Park comes to fruition.

Mary McGann is chair of the Grand County Commission.