New ‘Utahraptor’ state park to protect dino bones, history

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MOAB, Utah (AP) — At the top of the Dalton-Wells Quarry, the view is incredible.

The scenic La Sal mountain range is in the distance. On ridge, you can see the redrock boundary of Arches National Park. A unique green ribbon cuts through some of the rock, a highlight of what will be “Utahraptor State Park,” recently created after a bill passed the Utah State Legislature. Megan Blackwelder, the southeast region director for Utah State Parks, pointed to the boundaries and discussed the need for planning.

“We will have campgrounds, access to trail systems, and we’ll be able to provide the facilities and infrastructure that are needed for the state park,” she told Fox13.

Utahraptor State Park is located about 15 miles outside Moab, right outside the western boundary of Arches National Park and along Highway 191.

“It’s right in the middle of a recreation mecca,” said Brian Steed, the executive director of Utah’s Department of Natural Resources.

The park, which will be about 8,000 acres in size, is in an area that is rich in historic and paleontological resources. Dinosaur fossils are everywhere.

Jim Kirkland, the state paleontologist, said the Dalton-Wells Quarry has been the site of a number of major dinosaur finds including something known as “the megablock.” The Utahraptor is perhaps its most famous prehistoric find (and for reference, the velociraptors made famous in the “Jurassic Park” and “Jurassic World” movies are really based on the skeletal design of a Utahraptor).

But until now, it has not been really protected.

“I saw fire rings that had dinosaur bones in the fire ring! People didn’t even know what they’re doing,” said Grand County Commission Chair Mary McGann.

Others have joked about the “Charmin lily” that blooms in the area, a sly reference to human waste left out. The area, which is made up of state and school trust lands, is a spot where people can camp with few restrictions. But there has also not been a lot of resources devoted to protecting it, until now.

“What we’re seeing is the effect of trash, human waste and resource degradation,” said Moab Mayor Emily Niehaus. “Trails all over the place.”

Moab and Grand County leaders have been big supporters of Utahraptor State Park, lobbying the legislature for its creation for years. The Moab area sees around three million visitors a year, and the new state park can help with overcrowding at nearby Arches National Park.

“The way Utahraptor State Park can help with the congestion and the mitigation is that if you see the Arches entrance station is backed up or the park is full? Then you can go to the state park and visit there and then head back to Arches when the visitation is lower,” Mayor Niehaus said.

With a state park designation, the Utah State Parks system will install restrooms, have trash pickup and a law enforcement presence. Trails will be designated, there are improved campgrounds. While it’s free to camp there now, state park fees will help pay for those improvements (the legislature appropriated $36 million for Utahraptor State Park and Lost Creek State Park in Morgan County).

“We believe it will be one of the top state parks once it’s developed,” said Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, who sponsored the bill to create the new park.

Utahraptor State Park took years to get through the legislature, mostly because lawmakers balked at its price tag. But supporters were persistent, including one of its biggest boosters — 14-year-old Kenyon Roberts.

“Let’s just say kids are convincing,” he joked.

Roberts, who is a dinosaur fan, testified repeatedly in support of the bill to create Utahraptor State Park. Visiting the site with his family, he said the designation means fossils will be preserved.

“There’s Moabasaurus, Utahraptor, and who knows what else is just underneath our feet,” he said, naming some of the dinosaurs found in the Dalton-Wells quarry.

Kirkland said the site has major potential.

“About 10% of the site has been dug about a 30 year period,” he told FOX 13. “There’s a lot more work to be done.”

Beyond the paleontological power, Utahraptor State Park also has other historical significance. It was the site of a Civilian Conservation Corps camp in the Great Depression and an “isolation” camp in World War II, where Japanese-Americans who were designated as “bad ones” were incarcerated because they spoke out against their detainment.

“They were just incarcerated because of the color of their skin and prejudice,” said Sen. Jani Iwamoto, D-Salt Lake City, who has pushed for preservation of the area.

“I think it’s just important that in our own state we have this history, a dark history, but that we can learn from it,” she added.

Rep. Eliason said the protections offered by Utahraptor State Park are overdue, and it can greatly enhance outdoor recreation experiences in southeastern Utah.

But it could also potentially serve as a second entrance to Arches National Park.

“There’s so much needed in the Moab area. As well as an additional entrance to Arches National Park which we think could be greatly utilized. So the demands on our outdoor recreation are growing. The timing couldn’t be better,” Rep. Eliason told FOX 13.

Not everyone agrees that a second entrance to Arches is a great idea.

“It’d make the crowding in the park worse. It might eliminate some of the lines, but it just means more people are in the park at the same time,” Chair McGann said.

The National Park Service did not return messages from FOX 13 seeking comment about the potential for a second entrance to Arches National Park. Currently, there is a road that does allow access to Arches but it is largely inaccessible.

Steed said the idea is a discussion point. Meanwhile, the Utah Department of Natural Resources is moving ahead with planning. Over the next year, they will install the appropriate infrastructure with a formal opening of Utahraptor State Park in 2022.

“We’re really excited to have this land known, but also protected,” Steed said. “So that people are able to enjoy it responsibly.”

First published on: AP

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