Goblin Valley State Park just tripled in size. What changed?

Utah conservative lawmakers lauded the expansion of the popular state park.

(Utah Division of State Parks) Bureau of Land Management Director Tracy Stone-Manning speaks at Goblin Valley State Park on Friday, June 17, 2022. The state park tripled in size this month, increasing opportunities for recreational activities.

Goblin Valley State Park tripled in size this month as the Bureau of Land Management conveyed 6,300 acres of federal land to the state park. The park’s expansion will increase opportunities for recreational activities as well as public safety, officials said.

Like many of Utah’s other state parks, Goblin Valley has witnessed an increase in visitation in recent years. The park welcomed more than 40,000 visitors each month in September and October of 2021, the state reported. At the signing of the land conveyance on June 17, Jeff Rasmussen, director of the Utah Division of State Parks, said that Goblin Valley is one of the state’s most popular parks, with nearly 500,000 visitors annually.

Officials at the signing emphasized the collaboration between federal and state agencies that resulted in the land transfer, touching on a hot-button topic for many Utahns.

“We can encourage economic prosperity for the communities that surround these magnificent public lands while protecting and preserving America’s treasures,” BLM Director Tracy Stone-Manning said.

“These types of operations — where we’re able to partner together, where we’re able to work together rather than fight, to come up with solutions on how we’re better able to utilize the resources that we have — are something I think we can all be proud of as citizens of the United States and citizens of the state of Utah,” Brian Steed, director of the Utah Department of Natural Resources, said.

What’s new?

Goblin Valley visitors won’t encounter much change in the park’s newly acquired land right away, park manager Jim Wells told The Salt Lake Tribune. Old equestrian trails and previously BLM-maintained trailheads will come under the park’s wing, and dispersed camping will still be permitted.

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

The expansion includes all of Goblin Valley Road and a portion of Little Wild Horse Road. Wildhorse Canyon, Crack Canyon, Chute Canyon and Wild Horse Window Arch are some of the popular attractions now within the boundaries of the state park.

Little Wild Horse Canyon and Temple Mountain, two wildly popular areas nearby, are not included in the conveyance.

“The trailheads have always been here,” Wells said. “They aren’t new, but we’re going to let people know they exist.”

To address increased impact and recreation in the recently conveyed land, Goblin Valley plans to send out additional patrols, particularly to dispersed camping areas. Officials have received complaints about illegal dumping, noise disturbances and illegal restrooms in these sites.

Wells said that the park doesn’t plan on building an entrance station nor charging fees to the new park land at this time.

To access areas brought into the park, roads previously maintained by the BLM as well as county roads will remain open. The state park will also close illegally-made tracks and campsites for restoration efforts.

“We already have some stuff on hand to make an immediate impact,” Wells said.

Greg Sheehan, director of the BLM state office, also signed two other land conveyances to Emery County on Friday.

One will will create a new site for an Emery County Sheriff’s Office substation, which will be built on 5 acres next to Utah State Route 6.

“This conveyance will be monumental for the public safety of outdoor recreators in the area,” Emery County Sheriff Greg Funk said in a statement.

(Brian Maffly | The Salt Lake Tribune) Metal cutout sculptures commemorating the Old Spanish Trail line Fullers Bottom Road at the Buckhorn Draw access point into San Rafael Swell. The BLM has conveyed 3 acres of public land here to Emery County in a deal to support recreation and public safety in one of Utah’s most popular destinations. The county has long operated an information center at this site east of Castle Dale and now intends develop displays on the Swell’s history, steeped in uranium mining and ancient Indigenous cultures.

He added that the new substation would enable BLM, Emery County and state officials to respond to emergency situations more effectively and better communicate weather conditions to the public.

The second transfer is for the Buckhorn Information Center, managed by the BLM Price field office and Emery County, which will expand by 3 acres, increasing space for historical exhibits.

BLM Green River district manager Lance Porter said the information center plays an important role in providing guidance to visitors so they can recreate with respect.

Done ‘the right way’?

The Goblin Valley expansion is the result of a bipartisan federal bill cosponsored by Utah Sen. Mitt Romney that passed in 2019. It marked the most sweeping public lands bill in decades, establishing conservation and recreation areas on hundreds of thousands of acres in Emery and Uintah counties.

Named for the late Rep. John Dingell, the bill also authorized a massive land exchange, where school trust sections will be swapped for federal lands elsewhere in the state. The act designated Jurassic National Monument at the Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry.

Conservative lawmakers have generally opposed the expansion of conservation areas, but many, including Romney, lauded the land conveyances.

“Utah is, and always will be, a public lands state,” Romney said in a statement on Friday. “Today’s event is a great success story and shows that we must continue looking for public lands solutions that come from the bottom up — not the top down.”

Romney’s comments echo those of former Utah Rep. Rob Bishop, who said that the legislation established national monuments and conservation areas “the right way” in 2019.

Utah Rep. John Curtis, who also voted then to pass the legislation, told The Tribune that he was proud to have been part of the collaborative effort.

“This bill represents decades of outreach, where local leaders worked hard to create broad consensus among a diverse range of priorities. The Emery County Commissioners, Emery County Public Lands Council, and other leaders deserve to be applauded for their contributions that will bring long-term certainty to the area, striking a balance between access and protection,” Curtis said in a statement. “Additionally, the legislation generates millions of dollars through school trust land exchanges to help Utah’s school children.”

The wrong way — to Romney, Bishop and other prominent Utah conservatives — is the establishment of such monuments and conservation areas through presidential action, like President Barack Obama’s order that created Bears Ears National Monument in 2016. President Trump then shrunk the monument in 2017, while President Biden restored Bears Ears to its original acreage last October.

Utah plans to file a lawsuit to challenge Biden’s restoration of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments, claiming such large designations exceed the scope of the Antiquities Act.