Utahraptor State Park bill stalls in Senate committee

A proposal for Utahraptor State Park has been 100 million years in the making, give or take.

And it appears the wait won’t end this year.

Rep. Steve Eliason’s HB322 failed to win majority support in a Senate committee on Monday, likely thwarting his plan to establish the state park near Arches National Park to help develop and preserve a dinosaur quarry and surrounding area. Right now, the valuable site is threatened by dispersed camping, vandalism and looting, officials say.

“The area is being loved to death currently, without any real oversight as a recreation area,” Eliason, R-Sandy, said.

Dalton Wells Quarry, which yielded the first fossils of Utahraptor, 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.

But the estimated $10 million cost of establishing the state park has created problems for the bill as it has moved through the Legislature.

Lawmakers expressed concern about what would happen if the state designates the area as a park but lacks the money this year to develop it fully.

“It is my hope that some way, if this bill does pass this session, that somehow those funds are scraped up to be able to make it work,” said Jeff Rasmussen, director of the Utah Division of Parks and Recreation. “Because the other scenario would be a new park with a state park name without the funding to take care of it.”

Eliason noted that his bill contains a clause prohibiting the state from opening the park until its development receives sufficient funding.

However, several members of Senate Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environment Committee opposed advancing the proposal given the scarcity of general fund dollars this year. The bill failed to move forward by a 3-3 vote in the committee.