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McEntee: In my wildest dreams, I see a Greater Canyonlands Monument

Published November 16, 2012 4:00 pm

Column • It would make Canyonlands even greater.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

I have a dream that President Barack Obama whips out a pen, signs the order creating the Greater Canyonlands National Monument and thus preserves some of the most beautiful lands in the world.

I said it was a dream. Obama has far more on his mind than that. But maybe one day, before his last term is over, he'll consider that designation for 1.4 million acres surrounding Canyonlands National Park.

In so doing, he would thrill outdoor enthusiasts and the people who earn their living in the industry. He'd also make even more political enemies than he already has in Utah, where legislators are threatening, futilely, to seize 30 million federal acres within the state.

But think what would be preserved if the president were to create the monument — fantastic geological features, ancient ruins, rock art, cryptobiotic soil and the wild land and sky that make southeastern Utah a place of limitless majesty.

I know the counter­argument is that people who live in San Juan, Wayne and Garfield counties need oil and gas drilling and grazing lands to keep their lives afloat. I also know that state Rep. Mike Noel likes to ride his ATV all over the place as do far too many fellow travelers.

But do we really need tar sand and uranium mining?

After all, tourism is a huge economic driver, too. I've heard Japanese, French, German and many other languages spoken when I've been to, say, the San Rafael Swell or Cedar Mesa.

The Outdoor Industry Association, which is heading the monument drive, says recreation generated $646 billion in national sales and services in 2011 and supported 6.1 million jobs, many in Western states.

Here's what is most precious, at least to me: camping on Cedar Mesa and awakening to the song of a canyon wren and watching the sun rise; straining to see cliff dwellings across the canyon, then sighing as they materialize; and staying up late for the first full moon in May.

In September, we embarked on a road trip that took us over Boulder Mountain, with Capitol Reef National Park unfolding to the east.

We took a six-mile hike in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument to see a waterfall and cool our feet in its pool. From there, we hit Bryce Canyon National Park and the Cedar Breaks National Monument, where, at more than 10,000 feet, the red and yellow aspen seemed to float amid a dark green expanse of cedar.

These are the lands, owned by all Americans, that make Utah a must-see destination for people from across the globe. It may be wiser to let Congress legislate the proposed monument to avoid the ongoing rancor that many Utahns feel against then-President Bill Clinton, who created Grand Staircase.

Look, the oil and gas industry is booming in northeastern Utah, with many thousands of rigs running now and the economy there is robust. But it won't last forever; Utah and the West are full of boom-and-bust regions.

What will last is the land — if we let it.

Peg McEntee is a news columnist. Reach her at pegmcentee@sltrib.com, facebook.com/pegmcentee and Twitter, @pegmcentee.