Council supports push for Utahraptor State Park

This full skeleton of a Utahraptor is on display at Utah State University Eastern in Price. Photo courtesy of USU Eastern

The Grand County Council will send a letter in support of turning the Dalton Wells and Willow Springs area into Utahraptor State Park.

The council with little discussion voted 7-0 to send the letter to Gov. Gary Herbert, Sen. David Hinkins and Rep. Steve Eliason with the idea of tackling two issues at once: Protect the existing recreational opportunities at the site of one of the world’s most diverse paleontological sites, as well as historical and cultural locations – including a World War II Japanese internment camp. The second reason is to put an end to rampant dry, or dispersed, camping where not everybody is respectful.

“Recognizing the value of this area with its diverse paleontological, historical and cultural history, and being concerned about its lack of protection, Grand County has been working for the past few years with Utah’s Division of Forestry, Fire, and State Lands to create a management plan for these sovereign lands,” reads the letter.

A plan discussed but never followed up on in late 2018 sought to have the area turned into a campground managed by Grand County, and constructed by the state after it was reported the site was subjected to widespread vandalism, along with some campers dumping the black water tanks from their RVs on the ground and people leaving piles of trash when they left.

The Times-Independent interviewed State Paleontologist Dr. Jim Kirkland following a teleconference in November of 2018 to discuss the site and the problems.

It’s no secret Utah is home to more dinosaur fossils than anywhere else in the world and Grand County is ground zero.

Located on State Sovereign Lands off of Highway 191 north of Arches National Park, the roughly 1,200 acres has become popular with campers who either can’t find a campsite or don’t want to pay the fees.

Ongoing vandalism at Dalton Wells could do “real harm” to what Kirkland described as “the most complete record of the history of life in the world.”

“We’re where it all began. This is an incredible resource,” he said at the time.

Kirkland named the Utahraptor in 1989 and it was a find that validated the giant raptors that were featured in the original “Jurassic Park” film. Gov. Gary Herbert named it the state dinosaur earlier in 2018. There are roughly 50 other types of dinosaur fossils in the area.

Kirkland advocated for turning the site into a state park, saying acts of vandalism occur “almost daily,” and he said full-cast skeletons from the site are exhibited in more than 30 museums around the world.

In addition to being home to the Utahraptor – it has been found nowhere else – is a Civilian Conservation Corps site from the 1930s, the internment camp from the 1940s, and a history of uranium mining from the 1960s.