Kristin Murphy, KSL

Utah is one step closer to designating Utahraptor State Park

By Katie McKellar, KSL | Posted - Feb. 23, 2020 at 9:35 p.m.



SALT LAKE CITY — Utah is one step closer to designating its next state park — and naming it after the vicious predator that starred in “Jurassic Park.”

A bill that would designate the Utahraptor State Park to protect, preserve and celebrate Dalton Wells Quarry in Grand County — the site where Utahraptor’s first fossils were discovered and is among the richest early Cretaceous dinosaur bone deposits in the world — won approval from a House committee Friday.

HB322, or, to sponsor Rep. Steve Eliason, the “most exciting bill of this session,” is seeking $10 million to establish the state park, protect the world-class dinosaur fauna, and fund new amenities like state-of-the-art campgrounds, RV parking, restrooms, park areas, trails, roads and more.

The 6,500-acre state park would be located about 15 miles northwest of Moab and west of Arches National Park. Dalton Wells, already teeming with mountain biking and ATV trails, is already desperately in need of camping amenities, Eliason said.

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Jim Kirkland, Utah’s state paleontologist, said the “human waste problem” is so bad in the area, if there’s a decent-sized rock or a bush, “you don’t want to look on the other side of it.”

“It’s a place like Moab that is being loved to death,” Kirkland said. “Visitation doesn’t go down. It keeps going up and up.”

Dalton Wells Quarry is already a popular site for illegal diggers, or “curiosity seekers” in search of dinosaur bones, Kirkland said.

With still thousands of bones yet to be uncovered, Dalton Wells is visited “probably every other day” by illegal diggers improperly excavating the delicate fossils.

“You will find pieces of dinosaur bones on the surface, carpeting the site,” Kirkland said. “These are priceless antiquities ... Those things will never be found outside of Grand County from what we know geologically.”

A Utahraptor skull reconstruction is displayed during a press conference at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Friday, Feb. 14, 2020, to discuss HB322, which would create Utahraptor State Park in the Dalton Wells area near Moab. (Kristin Murphy, KSL)

The quarry is invaluable to paleontologists, Kirkland says, and offers many more lifetimes of work with likely hundreds more dinosaurs waiting to be discovered.

“It’s its own story that hasn’t been told before,” Kirkland said.

Dalton Wells also offers sweeping views into Arches National Park — and is home to the only other entrance to Arches, though those roads could use some improvements, Eliason said.

The bill didn’t run into any opposition from the House Political Subdivisions Committee, but Rep. Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, did ask Eliason how he expected to fund the $10 million fiscal note, particularly in what legislative leaders have called a tough budget year.

Eliason said he’s well aware of this year’s budget challenges, and he noted his bill’s funding could be “scaleable to a certain degree” as long as there is enough to fund state park staff and facilities with possible future investment. He also noted the funding could come out of state funds specifically set aside for state buildings. After the infusion of one-time money, Eliason added the hope is the park will be financially self-sustaining.

The House committee voted unanimously to endorse the bill. It now goes to the full House for consideration.

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