Getting the best public land management
"This is not a federal versus state battle," said county Public Lands Director Ray Petersen. "This is about getting the best public land management and making good decisions about managing the resources."
The county has been trying to capture the recreation opportunities — and preserve current mining and ranching uses — of the San Rafael Swell for almost two decades, but earlier efforts fizzled.
Now it seems Congressman Rob Bishop’s Public Lands Initiative has provided the momentum to do something. Bishop has asked state parks leaders to compile a "wish list" of new state park designations and expansions. The San Rafael-Goblin Valley combo is on that list.
The proposal also coincides with a larger state campaign to take control of federal lands and turn them over to the state.
Efforts to preserve the San Rafael Swell date back to at least to 1998 when a resolution from the Utah Legislature and governor urged Congress and President Bill Clinton to create the San Rafael Swell National Heritage/Conservation Area. But nothing happened. More recent attempts to protect the Swell also flopped.
But increasing visitation to the area is forcing the issue.
The BLM manages the San Rafael Swell Special Recreation Management Area — the largest such unit in the state at approximately 1.2 million acres — which had roughly 478,000 visitors last year.
And visits to Goblin Valley on the Swell’s doorstep have more than doubled in the past four years, from 46,270 in 2010 to 109,593 in 2014, according to Tim Smith, Utah State Parks southeast region director. Many of the same people who visit the state park also trek to nearby Little Wild Horse slot canyon in the Swell.