Paleo-rich land in Grand County could become “Utahraptor State Park” if Grand County and state agencies follow through with management plans at Dalton Wells. Of the 50 species of dinosaurs that have been found in fossilized remains around Grand County, 28 are unique to just Grand County and haven’t been found anywhere else in North America, said Jim Kirkland, state paleontologist with the Utah Geological Survey. Kirkland said there’s an urgency now to protect and preserve the site, which is a host to hundreds of people who enjoy dispersed camping in the area each year.
“Toilet paper is rolling across the desert,” in areas of dispersed camping where the dinosaurs once roamed, said Laura Ault, sovereign lands program coordinator at the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands, but an interlocal agreement could bring a solution to the human waste piling up.
Ault was one of several state and local people to gather for a meeting on Monday, Nov. 26, to discuss the Dalton Wells site, located about 14 miles north of Moab on U.S. Highway 191.
Grand County Council administrator Ruth Dillon, county council members Greg Halliday, Terry Morse, Evan Clapper and Mary McGann, along with Andrea Brand, director of the Sand Flats Recreation Area, county clerk Diana Carroll and Bill Jackson with the county roads department, gathered for the meeting in the county council’s chambers. Kirkland and Ault joined by video conference with Tony Mancuso, sovereign lands coordinator in Grand County, Kim Christy, deputy director at Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA) and several other people who wanted to weigh in on the site, including Jeremy Roberts, who said his 10-year-old son “convinced” the Utah State Legislature to make the state dinosaur the Utahraptor earlier this year.
Notes shared during the meeting said naming the site “Utahraptor State Park” instead of “Dalton Wells State Park” would create a marketing advantage. At least eight Utahraptor specimens have been collected at the site, and the specimen is “the actual star of ‘Jurassic Park’ franchise,” the notes explained.
Before the specifics of the site can be developed, land management must be consolidated in the area with support from the Utah State Parks and the community, the notes said. The word “Done?” was listed on the to-do list beside “Acquire community support.”
The process would involve an exchange in which “roughly 2,400 acres of trust land will be given up, and we’re poised to get about 1,200 acres,” Christy said. The land is currently going through an appraisal process, Christy said, but no final appraisal has been made. SITLA, in the exchange for giving up 2,376 acres, will receive 1,230 acres from the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands, a public information officer at SITLA clarified by phone on Nov. 28.
“The piece of land SITLA is getting near Crescent Junction, they could turn into something and make an income from it. That’s what SITLA does, they are a money-maker for schools,” McGann explained further on Nov. 28. “The land at Dalton Wells will remain protected and managed for future multiple uses.”
CAMPING AND VANDALISM IN DALTON WELLS AREA
There is more than one possible model that could be realized through the land exchange and management planning, with the idea of Utahraptor State Park just one of the ways the Dalton Wells area may change. The land could be managed similarly to the way Sand Flats Recreation Area is managed, and Grand County would collect entry and camping fees. Or, the area could be designated as a state monument with no camping allowed.
Currently, there is dispersed camping for RVs and tents at Dalton Wells. Like other busy camping areas that lack public restrooms, human waste has become an ongoing problem, and a lengthy discussion ensued about how to manage those issues.
Creating designated camping areas with campsites that already exist could place people into one camping area and a restroom could be built nearby.
Ault said people would be “mad” if the area wasn’t available for dispersed camping anymore, but said the agencies need to “handle it” and make sure they are “not just pushing the problem someplace else.”
Mancuso said that clustering campsites makes sense when there is the space to do so, but said that part of the draw for people who recreate in that area — especially for larger groups where RVs circle up around a campfire — is that they want to camp “without being on top of each other.”
“We’re happy to preserve that feeling,” he said.
Brand mentioned the closure of campsites in 2002 in areas of Grand County where there was not a toilet around for human waste problems. She said if there are a lot of campsites spread out and there’s only one toilet around for people to use, “they probably won’t use it.”
Other discussion hinted at where RV camping sites could be designated, rather than dispersed. Ault said “a few people” are “living out there.” McGann said that when she last visited the area, it appeared that a couple of families in RVs had established themselves, including one with a small garden.
“It’s heavily used and abused at this point,” Ault said.
Halliday said he would like to see people be able to camp there, but thinks it needs to be managed because of the vandalism problems.
Clapper asked whether the trails and area could be improved with signs to “bring it up to date,” similar to how the Bureau of Land Management trails in the county are designed.
“It’s seeing a lot of traffic, for sure,” Clapper said.
Ault said, “We can put up some signage.” But Roberts would ultimately like to see no camping in the Dalton Wells area.
“I think we can designate this area as a state monument,” he said, adding that it would put an end to the “exacerbating” human waste problem. “I think that signs, chain-link fences … aren’t going to work.” He also said that cameras would not work, either, because “people who are going and stealing fossils are stealing cameras.” Roberts questioned who would provide security and law enforcement for “people with shovels” once the transfer is complete and sovereign lands receives the land from SITLA and Grand County begins manages the entrance.
The new management, whatever the final plan turns out to be, is “going to make this a world-class place,” Roberts said, and law enforcement “can get hammered out … later down the road.”
Brand asked if the existing camping areas “have been cleared for an environment assessment.” Ault said sovereign lands is not required to do an environmental impact study or assessment.
“I don’t think that’s an issue,” Ault said. “I think we’re mostly clear on that, but if we find anything along the way we’ll document it.
She then advocated for using “student labor” from the universities.
There was also discussion of “passing through money to help with law enforcement” to the Grand County Sheriff’s Office, which has jurisdiction over criminal matters that happen on lands within the county, but on Nov. 27 Grand County Sheriff Steven White said that he had not heard anything about the new discussions on managing the Dalton Wells area.
“I don’t want to say much until I get up to speed on the issue,” he said.
No formal management plans for the Dalton Wells area were made at the meeting, officials stressed, and said the ideas are in the preliminary stages only.
Vandalism, human waste impacting environment and paleontology
“Toilet paper is rolling across the desert.”