Canyonlands National Park
Did the compromises used to create Canyonlands National Park meet the needs of all interested groups?
In southeastern Utah the Green and Colorado Rivers and their tributaries have carved deep canyons through red rock cliffs creating miles of maze-like slot canyons and numerous mesas and arches. In the early 1960s, several lawmakers, including senators Wallace Bennett and Frank Moss from Utah, proposed bills in Congress to officially establish the “Canyonlands,” comparable in size to the Grand Canyon, as a national park.
For years prior to the proposal to officially establish Canyonlands as a national park, nearby residents and many tourists had explored the area by jeep, on foot, by boat, and by horseback. They discovered beautiful natural landscapes, Native American petroglyphs, and many other awe-inspiring locations. Because of the region’s natural beauty and the potential benefits of tourism in the area, many individuals desired to preserve the canyons as a national park on the scale of Yellowstone, Yosemite, or the Grand Canyon. The Secretary of the Interior, Stewart L. Udall, encouraged lawmakers to take action.
Despite the many benefits a national park could bring to the area, many individuals opposed the establishment of a national park. Some opponents included local farmers and miners who depended on the area to support their families economically. Many people believed that the costs of restricting such a large area of land as a national park would hurt the local economies, a cost that would outweigh any benefit that the park would bring. Due to this opposition, lawmakers added the possibility of “multiple use” to the proposed bill.
Most national parks operate on the idea of single-use. This means that the natural area set aside for the park is intended to be used for the sole purpose of preserving the landscape, allowing visitors to enjoy magnificent natural areas of the country. No commercial activities such as mining or farming take place within the boundaries of single-use national parks. In contrast, a multiple-use park would allow some commercial activities within the boundaries of the park. For example, under multiple-use, certain companies could obtain for a certain period of time permission to mine or graze animals in parts of the park.
For more than three years, lawmakers argued over the multiple uses of the Canyonlands. Some strongly supported the park without multiple use, while others argued for the interests of businesses. Groups and individuals argued over the size of the park and which natural features should be included within its boundaries. People even argued over whether the area should be a national park at all. Eventually, the various stake-holders compromised and Congress passed the bill establishing Canyonlands National Park in 1964. Their compromise established a single-use park of about 238,000 acres, with multiple uses allowed on land bordering the park. Over the next few years, they expanded the boundaries to include other areas including some Native American sites.
Today Canyonlands National Park continues to serve as a major tourist attraction in southeastern Utah. Despite the controversy surrounding its creation, the compromises made to establish the park have allowed for the protection of a magnificent and unique natural landscape.