SALT LAKE CITY — A bill that would create two new Utah State Parks, including one dedicated to Utah's favorite dinosaur, took another step toward reality Tuesday.
HB257, which calls for the Utah Legislature to establish Utahraptor State Park near Dalton Wells, Grand County, and reestablish Lost Creek State Park near Croydon, Morgan County, sailed past the Senate's Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Committee with a unanimous vote Tuesday morning. It's the same committee where an attempt to create Utahraptor State Park last year fizzled.
"This bill … it's been either about 140 million years in the making or two years since we started working on this last year," said Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, and the bill's sponsor, during the committee meeting Tuesday.
There are currently 44 state parks in Utah. The bill last year focused solely on creating Utahraptor State Park in an effort to preserve land where eight Utahraptors have been discovered. The Utahraptor officially became the "state dinosaur" in 2018.
The land in Grand County where the park would be located is currently controlled by the Utah Department of Natural Resources and the Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration, known as SITLA. It's adjacent to Arches National Park.
"It has both significant paleontological resources as well as historical, significant recreation opportunities. It has some of the most extensive trail networks for ATV, mountain biking and hiking of anywhere in the state," Eliason said. "The property is currently being used and abused, and basically not managed while under the ownership of the State of Utah, which that needs to change."
The bill was supported during Tuesday's meeting by Mary McGann, the chair of the Grand County Commission, as well as state paleontologist Jim Kirkland. They said it's an area where eight Utahraptor and 18 Moabosaurus skeletons have been found.
Kirkland said it's one of the largest paleontology sites of its kind in the U.S. and larger than the Dinosaur National Monument on the Utah-Colorado border well north of Grand County.
"It's truly remarkable," he told the committee. "We now consider these Grand County raptors the oldest raptor skeletons anywhere on the planet."
Senate Minority Whip Jani Iwamoto, D-Holladay, who served as the 2020 bill's floor sponsor, pointed out during the meeting that the land isn't just where dinosaurs once roamed, it also has more recent historic significance; it's on land where a Japanese internment camp was located during World War II.
Iwamoto said she hoped there would be resources that could be added to the park to remember those who were sent there for that reason. It's also an area with more than 150 miles of recreational trails, McGann said. But more recently, it's the location of growing land vandalism concerns.
She told the committee Tuesday that human waste and trash are being left all over the land, and people have made fire pits out of the area's valuable rocks.
"I have been trying to find a way to protect this area for five years now," McGann said. "Grand County and sovereign lands do not have the bandwidth to take care of this land appropriately, and it is so valuable. It's valuable because of the paleontology, the history and the recreation."
This year's bill tacked on work to reestablish Lost Creek State Park at Lost Creek Reservoir, which is currently managed by the Bureau of Reclamation. Utah State Parks would work in agreement with the federal agency to run the state park, much like it does with about a dozen other reservoir-based state parks.
While that aspect wasn't discussed as much during the committee meeting Tuesday, Eliason said last week it was considered to help give Utahns more water-based state park options in response to record attendance to parks last year.
Jeff Rasmussen, the director of Utah State Parks, said the park would provide boating, picnicking and camping opportunities. He supports the push for both parks because he said they are areas people are already going to and the bill would provide better land management techniques to accommodate the traffic.
A fiscal note added to the bill late last week found that the establishment of the two state parks would cost nearly $40 million toward the 2022 fiscal year budget, which the Legislature is working to finalize this week. About $25.6 million would be set aside for the property acquisition and construction costs for Utahraptor State Park, while nearly $14 million would go toward new construction at Lost Creek State Park.
Legislative financial researchers stated that it would require close to $800,000 in yearly operating costs beginning in the 2023 fiscal year. The money to cover the annual costs would come from state park fees revenue.
The Senate committee voted 6-0 in favor of the bill Tuesday morning. Last year's push for Utahraptor State Park failed with a 3-3 vote from the same committee. The bill passed the House of Representatives last week with a 62-10 vote.
It now moves to the Senate for a final vote before it can pass the state Legislature. The 2021 legislative session ends Friday.