Proposed park would protect important Utah dinosaur site

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — An important dinosaur site that has fallen into neglect would be protected as Utah’s 45th state park under a measure being proposed in the state Legislature.

The bill would create Utahraptor State Park in the Dalton Wells Quarry, about 15 miles (24 kilometers) north of Moab, the Salt Lake Tribune reported.

The quarry is where the first fossils of Utahraptor, the state’s official dinosaur, and other unique species were found. State Paleontologist Jim Kirkland said the site, west of Arches National Park, has massive deposits of dinosaur bones from at least 10 species found nowhere else in North America.

“It’s a gold mine of new dinosaurs,” Kirkland said. “There are 30 that we know are only in Moab Valley.”

The creation of a state park is backed by Grand County leaders who have long wanted to safeguard the quarry.

There is now unregulated recreational use in Dalton Wells, and the site has been subjected to litter and vandalism. The land is crisscrossed with motorized and mountain bike trails and is heavily used for camping.

It’s also the site of a Civilian Conservation Corps work camp that was used as an internment camp for Japanese Americans during World War II.

The proposal to create the park is still very early in the process, Utah Department of Natural Resources spokesman Nathan Schwebach said.

“The Dalton Wells/Willow Springs area is popular but (needs) infrastructure to support the demand,” he said. “With some planning, we can better care for the area while maintaining its recreational value.”

Dalton Wells is on a large block of state-owned land that is popular among people trying to avoid the crowds in the Moab area. It’s overseen by the state agencies that aren’t equipped to run a park.

Officials are seeking to identify other land in Grand County that can be traded for trust land near the dinosaur quarry.

“We are trying to make the trade to make this park possible. We are working with our sister agencies to determine what is beneficial for them and is beneficial for us,” Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration Director David Ure said.

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