Utah House approves creation of Utahraptor State Park

(Brian Maffly | Tribune file photo) Surrounded by Utahraptor fossils and models at the Utah Capitol, Moab Mayor Emily Niehaus, center, describes her town's enthusiasm for a proposed state park honoring the famous predatory dinosaur that stalked Grand County 135 million years ago. Niehaus is flanked by Department of Natural Resources executive director Brian Steed, right, and Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy. Eliason is seeking a $10 million appropriation to establish Utahraptor State Park on 6,500 acres surrounding the Dalton Wells Dinosaur Quarry just outside Arches National Park.

The Utah House on Wednesday approved creation of Utahraptor State Park near Arches National Park to help develop and preserve a dinosaur quarry and surrounding area.

Rep. Steve Eliason’s HB322 passed on a 45-23 vote. But as it heads to the Senate for consideration, it has one big sticking point — its $10 million price tag.

That money, Eliason said, could come as a one-time expenditure from the State Building Board fund, which would not tap the revenues being relied up on in building the current $20 billion budget.

The funds are needed to construct a visitor center, main road and campground.

Eight full-size skeletons of the Utahraptor, the state’s official dinosaur, have been discovered at the Dalton Wells Quarry. But “looting is currently happening” in the area, Eliason warned. State park designation and staffing could help preserve and protect it, he added.

The quarry sits on a horseshoe-shaped 4,200-acre parcel of “sovereign land,” acquired by Utah in exchange for state holdings lost to Canyonlands and Arches national parks decades ago.

Under the proposal, the entire parcel would be included in the par, along with a 2,300-acre chunk of state trust land.

The park would be on the southern end of what’s called the Dinosaur Diamond Prehistoric Highway, a 480-mile loop passing through various paleontological sites in Utah and Colorado. State paleontologist Jim Kirkland has argued that Dalton Wells should be considered the crown jewel of this network.