Retired National Park Service Southeast Utah Group Superintendent Walt Dabney will give a presentation at the Grand County Public Library on Monday, April 9, about the history of public lands. [Courtesy photo]

The majority of land in Texas is privately owned – and that’s the reason why retired Texas State Parks Director Walt Dabney left his native Texas to return to Moab, which is surrounded by public lands.

“What we take for granted here with the public lands that we all own, we’d have to pay a bunch of money to do those same things in Texas,” whether it’s hunting, fishing, camping or anything else, Dabney said.

The difference is “dramatic,” he continued. “A lot of Texas is beautiful, but you can’t get off the road or you’ll be trespassing.”

Dabney worked for nine years as national park superintendent for the National Park Service’s Southeast Utah Group, which includes Arches and Canyonlands national parks, and Hovenweep and Natural Bridges national monuments. He’s also worked at Yellowstone, Yosemite, Mt. Rainier, Grand Teton and Everglades national parks. Dabney, who retired in 2010, said he “wished I could do it again.”

On Monday, April 9, at 5:15 p.m., Dabney will give a talk titled “The Park Idea and Public Land Conservation” at the Grand County Public Library, 257 E. Center St. The presentation is hosted by the Grand County League of Women Voters.

Dabney will talk about the history of public lands in the United States, and how states, especially in the West, were carved out of those federally owned lands. Subsequently, some of those publicly owned lands were designated as national parks and national forest lands.

“I’ll talk about what a treasure we have collectively with these public lands,” he said. “If allowed to be sold, we’d be excluded – that’s just a fact.”

The United States established its first national park – Yellowstone – in 1872. That concept of preserving special places for future generations expanded to include national parks all over the world. Every state has a park system, as well as more than 100 countries, Dabney said.

“At that time (of the Yellowstone designation), there was opposition,” he noted. “People were saying, ‘Why are you locking this up? People will never get there.’ Last year, visitation there was 6 million.”

Dabney said his presentation is not political – instead, it’s a historical perspective of our nation’s public lands and how decisions by both Republican and Democratic administrations were made over the years to preserve parks and forests for the public.

Though retired, Dabney, 72, continues to enjoy his public lands. Prior to talking with the Moab Sun News, he had just finished a mountain bike ride at the Bar M trails.

“It’s just magical,” said Dabney, who also likes to camp and hike.

The presentation is part of the League of Women Voters general membership program, which is always open to the public.

“One of the goals of the League of Women Voters is to help increase understanding of major public policy issues and empower citizens to participate in the decision-making process,” LWV member Bill Topper said. “The April program is intended to give our audience a historical perspective on what has always been a complex issue.”

Former national park superintendent to talk about history of public lands in the West

What: “The Park Idea and Public Land Conservation”

When: Monday, April 9, from 5:15 to 6:30 p.m.

Where: Grand County Public Library large conference room, 257 E. Center St.

Cost: Free