Utah lawmakers urge Congress to create new Utah national park and monuments

Katelyn Stiles
Sen. Ralph Okerlund greets constituents after presenting SCR8. Okerlund sponsors the resolution, which supports the U.S. bill to create more public lands in Southern Utah. (Katelyn Stiles)

Utah legislators have officially registered their support for a bill that would create a new locally managed national park as well as three monuments in Utah.

The Senate is set to vote on Senate Concurrent Resolution 8. This kind of resolution shows the collective support of the Legislature. A Senate Committee has voted 6-1 to endorse SCR8. The resolution supports HR4558, a bill introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives sponsored by U.S. Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah.

The US bill would establish Escalante Canyons National Park and Preserve, Kaiparowits National Monument, and Escalante Canyons National Monument in Kane and Garfield counties. The bill has come under fire from environmental groups.

The purpose of the national park and monument designations would be to “protect, conserve, and enhance the unique and nationally important historic, scenic, and natural resources; and recreation, including hunting; and grazing,” according to the resolution.

If it passes Congress, the bill would establish local control through a presidentially appointed management council made up of Utah residents to run the park and monuments, according to Sen. Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe, the resolution sponsor.

Matt Anderson, director of the Coalition of Self-Government in the West with the Sutherland Institute, said he believes getting locals involved in the process will ensure a bright future for Utah’s rural communities, and if it passes, would give a vote of confidence to Kane and Garfield counties.

“The bill will establish the first locally managed national park in our nation’s history,” Anderson said. “This move recognizes the importance of this land to those who live closest to it and puts them in the driver’s seat to make decisions on how to protect and preserve this beautiful place.”

Winding slot canyons populate the area that would be Escalante Canyons National Park if HR4558 passes. (Universe File Photo)

Dell LeFevre is a local rancher and former Garfield County commissioner who lives near the proposed Escalante Canyons National Park and Preserve if HR4558 passes in Congress.

LeFevre said the land is beautiful and creating a national park would be a blessing for the economy in Southern Utah.

“Right now, we’re just a pass-through community,” LeFevre said. “They come from Calf Creek or Bryce Canyon, and very few stop. It would be a god-send for the people who live there and try to make a living.”

Though she voted yes, Sen. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem, said she struggles with getting the federal government involved.

“It’s the least worst option,” Dayton said. “But would not let us benefit from our own lands the way we should.”

Sen. Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City said he grew up in Southern Utah and understands how the way of life works there.

“As I’ve looked at what’s happened in those small communities, there’s certain things that drive prosperity,” Vickers said. “A national park will bring additional tourists in, and tourism is a big thing in Southern Utah.”

Vickers said it is hard for people on the Wasatch Front to try and make decisions for people with such a different lifestyle, so he knows there will be opposition. But in the end, he said he thinks it’s the right thing for those “who live and breathe in Southern Utah.”

Okerlund said he believes turning the Escalante area into a national park would stimulate more economic growth in two years than the area, as a monument, has in 20 years.

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