New Utah state monument candidates emerge after 3-year process

New Utah state monument candidates emerge after 3-year process

(Utah Division of Parks and Recreation)

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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Gov. Gary Herbert’s office wants state park officials to further refine the criteria for possible new state monument candidates, but did give its endorsement on the first two designations that will need approval by Utah lawmakers.

The two candidates — Danger Cave State Park Heritage Area near the Nevada border and Old Iron Town in Iron County — received unanimous legislative endorsement by the Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Committee last month. The committee will draft a concurrent resolution that will need the support of the full Legislature.

Jeff Rasmussen, director of the Utah Division of Parks and Recreation, told the committee the initial criteria for possible state monument candidates includes that it must be the first, last, only, most important or best preserved site of its kind in the state, or offer a major contribution to pre-history or history, or feature outstanding scenic value.

Candidates must be “extraordinary” in one of those ways, be self-sustaining and not add more financial burden to the division and also must have the support of local and other community stakeholders.

The criteria was developed after lawmakers spent three years developing a state law that provides for monument designations on public property.

Danger Cave is one of North America’s most significant archaeological sites, once home to artifacts and relics detailing the history of Native Americans as far back as 11,000 years ago. The site has been excavated and provided the first opportunity for archaeologists to use radio carbon dating to trace the age of artifacts, Rasmussen said.

Just a bit off in the distance is Jukebox Cave, given its name because it still contains a World War II era dance floor installed by military members stationed at the nearby Wendover Airfield and test range so they had a cool cavern to host social gatherings out of the summer heat.

Rasmussen said reclassifying Danger Cave to monument status would actually help temper people’s expectations about the site, since the words “state park” often denotes the existence of campground facilities and amenities such as restrooms, and none of those features are currently there.

Visitors to Jukebox Cave look at its historic dance floor. The cave got its name from the cement dance floor airmen from nearby Wendover Airbase poured to hold dances in a place out of the intense desert heat. (Utah Division of Parks and Recreation)
Visitors to Jukebox Cave look at its historic dance floor. The cave got its name from the cement dance floor airmen from nearby Wendover Airbase poured to hold dances in a place out of the intense desert heat. (Utah Division of Parks and Recreation)

Old Iron Town in Iron County was home to several hundred residents in early statehood history as pioneers tried to hold onto their independence from the federal government. In its short existence from 1868 to 1876, the area played a critical role in iron ore supplies, feeding the Utah Western Railroad and still includes an iconic charcoal kiln from its era featuring iron works and a foundry.

Old Iron Town also supplied the materials to sculpt the 12 oxen at the baptismal font of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ St. George Temple, Rasmussen said.

Both sites are ideal candidates because they are already owned and managed by the state parks division and most critically, the possible new designations have support from local and county leaders, he told committee members.

Sen. David Hinkins, R-Orangeville, and a cosponsor of the 2019 legislation that allows the possible designations, cautioned committee members that all sites under consideration must be self-sustaining because in an economic downturn, the state of Utah doesn’t want to be faced with the prospect of any park closures due to financial constraints.

Rasmussen said both of these potential candidates would only require some updates in signage so the public is aware of their status.

Although these two candidates have the support of the governor’s office, parks spokesman Eugene Swalberg said later that the executive branch informed park officials the criteria’s language should be tightened to be more discerning of potential candidates.

“There are many sites that could meet the criteria in real general terms,” Swalberg said. “They want tighter definitions.”

When state monument candidates are brought to the natural resources committee for potential consideration, under the new state law, the committee has 90 days to either endorse the proposals for consideration of the Utah Legislature, or return them to the state parks division for additional refinement.

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Amy Joi O'Donoghue
Amy Joi O’Donoghue is a reporter for the Utah InDepth team at the Deseret News with decades of expertise in land and environmental issues.


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