Should Cedar Breaks become a national park?

Published September 14, 2009 11:17 pm
The idea of promoting Cedar Breaks brings up the issue of islands of private land in a sea of publicly owned wilderness.
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Three years ago, a land use plan for Iron County floated the idea of turning Cedar Breaks National Monument into a national park.

Nothing has happened since. But Monday, the idea had its first public airing. About 30 people attending the hearing -- hosted by the Iron County Commission -- which covered many of the issues raised in the past, including what to do about private property that could be included in any park.

The idea of expanding the monument -- most noted for its towering red rock amphitheater -- to include the Ashdown Gorge Wilderness Area to the west, has been simmering in the southern Utah county since at least 2006. Proponents say elevating the monument's stature to a national park -- which would require an act of Congress -- would draw more visitors and give the area an economic boost.

Detractors worry about hunting rights, grazing issues, property rights and crowds.

Any expansion would likely involve purchasing land from or trading land to the few people who own about 320 acres in islands of private property surrounded by the wilderness area.

Glen Bauer, who is one of those property owners, said he knew since the wilderness area was designated in the 1980s that it was only a matter of time before the question of what to do with private property inside it would have to be answered.

The wilderness designation prevents him from using any mechanical tools and he is under constant pressure from the U.S. Forest Service to deal with manure deposited by his sheep.

He also said wilderness seekers never ask permission to hike across his property.

The private land issue must be resolved before any plan of a national park can advance. Michael Empy, the southern Utah representative for Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, attended the public hearing and said in an interview that the congressman's position on the national park idea depends on local support.

County resident Allen Nielsen opposes the idea because it would draw too many people to the area. The economic gain isn't worth the cost, he said.

"Are we selling our birthright for dollars?" he asked. "Do we want to bring in millions of visitors to destroy this beauty, because they will."

Maria Twitchell, who heads the Cedar City-Brian Head Tourism and Visitor Center, said a national park would likely draw two to three times the number of people who visit the monument now, which currently sees 550,000 visitors every year.

She said national parks are a primary reason people visit Utah, but that Cedar Breaks gets little exposure.

Cedar Breaks superintendent Paul Roelandt said the park service has not taken a stand either way on the idea.

Iron County Commissioner Lois Bulloch said her biggest concern was for private property owners.

"Our real focus should be on what to do with them," she said.

She also said tourism dollars are "the cleanest you can get," adding that they do not put pressure on infrastructure and services.

Martin Tyner, president of the Southwest Wildlife Foundation, said county residents have the opportunity to choose the kind of growth they want.

"It would improve my quality of life if I had a national park 20 miles from my house," said Tyner. "When people think of a monument, they think of rock on the side of the road."

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Cedar Breaks National Monument

History » Created in 1933 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Size » 7,000 acres, with 80 percent managed as wilderness. If redesignated as a national park, its size is likely to double because it would include the adjacent Ashdown Gorge Wilderness Area.

Visitors » About 550,000 a year.



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