PANGUITCH - This southwest Utah city wants in on a proposal to turn Cedar Breaks National Monument into a national park.
Mayor Art Cooper will represent the Garfield County town on a committee looking into elevating the 6,000-acre national monument.
We approve of the concept as a positive thing, said Cooper. There are issues like private land and wilderness to consider, but we can solve those problems.
Cooper already is on a committee to make state Route 143 a federal Scenic Byway - that process has been under way for three years - and thinks such a designation of the road that connects Panguitch to Parowan in Iron County 40 miles to the west while skirting the monument would boost visitors to his town of 1,700 residents.
A byway would be the natural thing along with the national park, Cooper said.
He said that last year 600,000 people visited the monument, with its red-rock amphitheater and alpine setting, and those numbers would rival the 1.1 million who visited nearby Bryce Canyon and 4 million who visit Zion National Park 60 miles to the south.
With Cedar Breaks a national park, you'd have more national parks in a 200-mile radius of southern Utah than anywhere else, except maybe Alaska.
City Manager Allen Henrie said more visitors would be an economic boon.
We have an interest in the move, said Henrie. It affects our community.
In March, U.S. Forest Service District Manager Dayle Flanigan and monument Superintendent Paul Roelandt proposed the upgrade to the Iron County Commission.
Roelandt said Thursday that Cooper is welcome on the committee that is scheduled to hold its first meeting Wednesday in Cedar City.
It's an open process, said Roelandt. Anyone who thinks they can contribute [is] welcome.
The proposal, which would require congressional approval, is being incorporated into the Iron County Land Use Management Plan.
Roelandt said that some people are concerned about what the upgrade would do for hunting issues, "but it's been mainly positive response from the public."
Also on the committee is Iron County Commissioner Wayne Smith, along with the mayors of Cedar City, Brian Head and Parowan.
Response has been positive, said Commissioner Dennis Stowell. People have been really positive about it.
Ken Sizemore, executive director of St. George-based Five Counties Association of Governments, said beside the obvious economic benefits of making the monument a park, the designation would extend the boundaries of the current monument, providing year-round access to the park from SR-143. Currently, the park is closed at least half a year because of deep snow.
It could be a great advantage, said Sizemore, whose organization was contracted by Iron and Garfield counties to prepare the corridor-management plan necessary for Scenic Byway portion of the process.