KANAB, Utah - Outside the Kane County administration building, a warm autumn sun sets the red cliffs ablaze. Inside, seated in front of an American flag, Kane County's own firebrand, Joe Judd, 67, tells how he came to this small town in southernmost Utah.
"I retired 17 years ago
as parks manager for the city of L.A.," he says. "I was responsible
for 200 parks, 14 golf courses, and a staff of 2,200 that was 80
Judd says the job was
rewarding, but ate him alive. "You don't get to be a nice guy when
you have your life threatened," he says, shaking his head. "So when
I was 50, I said, "I don't need this." " He moved to
Instead of hobby ranching, Judd became
active in the Mormon Church, serving as a bishop and helping
overhaul a soup kitchen for the needy. He also served on the board
of the local power company. Then, two years ago he won a seat on
the Kane County
"Now I'm working
on zoning ordinances and septic regulations," he says. "I'm trying
to pull people here into the 20th century."
This Joe Judd seems far different from the one I talked to two
months ago, the day after President Bill Clinton created the 1.7
million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. The
monument, more than half of which lies in Kane County, killed a
proposed coal mine on the Kaiparowits Plateau that supporters say
would have brought millions of dollars into Kanab and other towns
in the area (HCN, 9/30/96).
On the phone, Judd
cursed the Clinton administration for running roughshod over local
people and for destroying the last hope for good wages in his
county, which is 95 percent public land and home to just 10,000
people. Soon after, Judd and his fellow commissioners sent county
bulldozers into the new monument, some to areas environmentalists
want protected as roadless wilderness.
still curses the president and is unapologetic about the "freshened
up" roads. But he quickly accepted $100,000 from the Clinton
administration to do planning in conjunction with the new monument,
and then asked for and received $100,000 that neighboring Garfield
County had rejected as "blood money." His county then signed an
"assistance agreement" with the Bureau of Land Management that
spells out how the two will cooperate during the planning process
for the monument.
arrogant as hell for the president to use the law to his advantage
as he did," the commissioner says. "But we're not going to sit
around with our heads in our hands."
visiting southern Utah, I couldn't have guessed that Kane County
might embrace the new monument. But Judd and others like him
recognize that the monument solidifies two facts of life: Southern
Utah's mining, logging and ranching are in decline; and the region
is already a public-lands playground for the world.
Even the angry leaders in Garfield County,
which is home to the monument's northern half, recognize that the
game has evolved from fighting off outsiders to adapting to a
tourism boom that could turn their quiet towns into a theme park.
As I drove for hours around the edges of this
immense monument and visited its widely scattered communities, I
wondered how the land and the people would change over the coming
years. Would the anger and resentment fade? Would the Bureau of
Land Management be able to run a monument that will attract
millions of visitors each year? And would the towns end up looking
and feeling like every other strip-developed community near a
Kanab, pop. 4,500, boasts a golf course
on the edge of town that bustles on a weekday in mid-November, and
newish hotels, gift stores and restaurants line the clean, wide
streets. It seems downright prosperous for a town that has just
seen its hopes for a major industrial project - the Andalex coal
mine - dashed.
A mild climate and proximity to
some of the southwest's finest scenery have made tourism the town's
main economic force for years. Bryce Canyon, Zion, Grand Canyon and
Capitol Reef national parks are all closer than a day's drive, as
is Lake Powell. The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is
just the latest and nearest attraction.
long ago, tourism was balanced by a substantial
natural-resource-based economy. The scales tipped during the early
1990s, when Kanab lost more than 500 timber and uranium mining
jobs. Families that had a primary breadwinner earning $20 to $30 an
hour suddenly had to move or change occupations. Those who wanted
to stay had to send Dad to work as a trucker or laborer in a
distant city and add Mom, grandma and the kids to the work force,
most often cleaning hotel rooms and flipping hamburgers for
tourists at $5 an hour.
In 1990, 1.5 people per
Kane County household were in the work force and the average income
was $25,000, according to a recent economic report prepared for the
county. Today, 2.6 people work per household and the average income
has eroded to $18,000.
the high-paying jobs dried up, more people had to work just to meet
the bills," says Gil Miller, a Logan, Utah-based economist who
drafted Kane County's latest economic development plan. "The only
jobs available were in the tourism industry."
Kanab councilman Roger Holland says seven families in his Mormon
Church ward lost their jobs with the closure of the Kaibab mill.
"Some have gone on unemployment, then welfare," Holland says. "None
of these families have come back to the point economically that
they were before."
Tourism has continued to
grow, but workers not only earn low wages, they frequently get laid
off during the cold winter months. Roger Carter, manager of the Red
Hills Best Western in Kanab, says he pares his summer staff of 35
to a baker's dozen during November, December and January.
"We love our tourists,
especially now that they're all we have," says Carter, who moved
his family to Kanab seven years ago from Flagstaff, Ariz. "But it's
a boom-and-bust economy, too."
To this hard-hit
community, the Andalex coal mine project looked like a savior. No
wonder everyone was hopping mad when the President took that hope
Practical to the
Later that evening, I meet with three men
who have moved past anger to focus on Kane County's future. They
lead a community organization called CORE - Coalition of Resources
On my left is hotel manager,
Roger Carter, who serves as CORE's president; on my right, Richard
Negus, a 67-year-old London-born transplant who has been an
animal-rights activist, journalist, and cat-show announcer at New
York's Madison Square Garden. Dead ahead of me is the imposing
figure of Jim Matson, the former manager of Kaibab Industries'
logging mill in Fredonia, Ariz., 9 miles south of
The mill closed two years ago, a victim
of changing economic conditions and, according to Matson, appeals
of federal timber sales on the Kaibab National Forest north of the
Grand Canyon brought by
have any environmentalists in your group?" I
"All 12 of us," quips
A forester by training, Matson, 52, has
been reborn as a super-consultant on natural-resource conflicts and
economic development. Kane County recently hired his firm to spend
$200,000 in monument planning monies.
"We're a poor county, behind
the times in land-use planning and economic development," he says.
"The coal mine and the $1.5 million a year it would have provided -
now that's gone and we have to quickly shift our priorities."
Matson says the monument catalyzed a countywide
economic plan that he had been working on for months. The plan
focuses on bringing small and medium-sized firms to the county -
companies like Stamp "Em Up, a business started in Las Vegas by two
Kanab women who recently moved the operation back to their
hometown. The company manufactures rubber impressions for a variety
of crafts, and at 200 employees, it's Kane County's biggest
But Matson knows Kanab is a rookie in
the recruitment game. Last year, he says, the owners of a tent and
outdoor-gear manufacturing company scouted Kanab as a possible
location for their business. They left quickly when town officials
couldn't promise that the company's sewer, water, power and
telecommunications needs would be
"We didn't even speak the
same language," Matson recalls.
The new plan,
which calls for zoning and upgrades in Kanab's infrastructure,
should give the county the credibility it needs to start recruiting
businesses from places like Southern California. It might be a
Kanab's work force lacks the skills
and expertise to attract the high-tech industries that are flocking
to Utah's Wasatch Front, says economist Gil Miller. The nearest
four-year college is several hours away, in Cedar City. And Kanab
sits almost a hundred miles from an interstate and lacks commercial
Kanab can't even attract the BLM.
The agency recently decided to locate its temporary monument
planning office in Cedar City, which is several hours away from the
new monument and outside both Kane and Garfield counties. BLM
monument supervisor Jerry Meredith says the agency didn't want to
locate in any community near the monument for fear it would give
the town an edge in the competition for permanent monument
facilities. But there were logistical concerns as well, he
Cedar City has an interstate, an
airport, conference facilities and Southern Utah University,
Meredith says. And, it has real
"We needed 6,000
square feet of space and 18 houses for employees right away," says
Meredith. Even Kanab would have been marginal, he
To Matson, the BLM's decision was "a slap
in the face. It said that they didn't want to live with us."
It also said Kane County would, for the next
three years, lose out on 18 high-paying government
If you designate it,
will they come?
Driving the 60 miles east from
Kanab to Big Water, pop. 350, which lies within a few miles of Lake
Powell, I am struck by the immensity of the new monument. Its
southern edge along the highway is a series of rugged, sparsely
vegetated cliffs that extend as far as the eye can see.
The last protrusion is the Kaiparowits Plateau,
which looms like the prow of a giant ship behind the town of Big
Water. It is also the place where Andalex had planned to mine
Big Water, with its dirt roads and
boat-storage yards facing the highway, missed out on the mining
boom, but its mayor, Gerry Rankin, says she is eager to capitalize
on the new monument.
It isn't a Grand Canyon or
a Lake Powell, she says, "but it's got a rough, difficult beauty,
you might call it."
For Big Water to attract
tourists, though, Rankin says it needs the BLM to develop some
roads into the monument so that people can sightsee. The town also
needs a sewer system, she says. Without one, it has been unable to
attract hotels or other large commercial enterprises. The carloads
of tourists now passing Big Water on their way to Lake Powell have
little reason to stop.
Joe Judd says he doubts
the monument will give Big Water much of a boost. The southern
portion of the monument, he says, is "like your big toe; there's
nothing sexy about it. You won't see anything that you can't find
in two-thirds of the rest of the state."
are few roads into the monument from the south, Judd notes, and
most are nearly impassable for all but skilled four-wheel drivers.
The people who come and want to see the new monument will have to
stay around the outskirts or risk getting stuck or lost. Either
way, they are a liability, in his view.
recently jetted to Washington, D.C., with Garfield County
Commissioner Louise Liston to ask Congress for $575,000 to help his
county cope with everything from a stretched police force to
growing numbers of lost and injured hikers, and overflowing garbage
bins. Liston asked for $900,000 and an extra $2 million for road
maintenance and improvement in the monument.
asking for so much money, Judd seems to contradict his prediction
that the monument will generate little interest. But early readings
indicate that tourists are chomping at the bit. The BLM offices in
Kanab, Escalante and Salt Lake City say they are swamped with
thousands of requests for monument information and maps. A Web site
put on the internet by the town of Escalante's Chamber of Commerce
received 2,000 hits during February
"We want all the
tourism we can get," admits Matson, "but we don't want a Moab
(Utah)-type situation," where hordes of visitors have failed to
lift family income and strained public services to the breaking
Kane County's eager-but-cautious
attitude toward tourism is based on experience. Even without the
monument, towns like Kanab have begun to see the negative side of a
minimum-wage economy and the outsiders it attracts. The newcomers
may also have a tough time fitting in with the locals. The
communities in Kane and Garfield counties share two
characteristics: The citizens are predominately white and
"The people that come down to fill these
jobs have different values," says Tom Hatch, a sixth generation
rancher who represents both Kane and Garfield counties in the state
Legislature. "They work a season and then they go on welfare or
unemployment. It's changed our schools and our kids. We have drugs
and violence and some kids want to become gang members."
Matson says the county will keep tourism's
downside uppermost in its mind during the BLM's planning process.
"We want to steer the ship rather than have someone steer it for
us," he says.
Steering the ship means local
control. The county wants monument visitor centers and staff
offices located within communities such as Kanab and Escalante, not
inside the monument. Environmentalists say they like that idea.
"There's no reason to put a
Marriott in the middle of the Kaiparowits Plateau," says Scott
Groene, an attorney with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.
"This is actually a place where we all agree."
Jerry Meredith says his agency will consider placing several
visitor centers in the communities around the monument. "This
monument is so spread out that it doesn't lend itself to having one
central headquarters," says Meredith, who previously oversaw the
monument area, as the BLM's Cedar City district
Kane County also wants to hire county
employees to man new monument campgrounds and facilities. The idea
of having local people filling these slots - instead of senior
citizen volunteers or federal employees from afar - is novel.
"If we could get 150 jobs
paying $8, $9 or $10 an hour with benefits, that would be a whole
lot more than we have now," says Richard Negus, CORE's public
Meredith says the BLM will
consider contracting out services to the counties, though it is too
early to commit.
County: Holding to the past
Garfield County is
Kane County's colder, rougher brother. It has some of the most
scenic - and already well-visited - portions of the Grand
Staircase-Escalante National Monument. (BLM officials say that more
than 500,000 visited the monument area last year and this year the
number is likely to boom.) But the county's cool and wet winter
climate, compared to Kane County, also means a shorter tourism
season. Its towns are smaller and scattered across a landscape that
is more than 98 percent federally owned. All 4,000 county residents
could fit into the town of Kanab.
and raw as I drive through Panguitch, the county seat. And quiet.
Only a handful of cars and trucks cluster around the open
businesses - a grocery store and a gas station. Panguitch is the
county's biggest town with a population of 1,400, but it looks like
a carnival that has closed for the season. The museums, gift stores
and hotels are here, but no customers. The town lost a timber mill
and nearly 100 jobs two years ago.
miles and maybe six cars later, a lone coyote scampers across the
road as I turn in to Bryce Canyon National Park. Ruby's Inn stands
guard just outside the park entrance; compared with Panguitch, it
bustles. A busload of foreign tourists load up in front of the
lodge, which is run by a local family; inside, several dozen
tourists dine at the cafe and browse in a souvenir shop the size of
a department store.
At 80 years old, Ruby's Inn
is the economic heavy of Garfield County, employing nearly 500
people during the summer months. But the minimum-wage-plus-tips pay
can't compare to wages provided by a coal mine or a timber
The next lonely hour down the road runs
right through portions of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National
Monument. This northwestern side of the monument, with its
hayfields surrounded by towering cliffs dotted with juniper and
pine, seems a world away from the harsh desert I encountered near
Big Water. And it is; it has taken me a whole day to travel around
just the western half of the monument.
reach Escalante, another Mormon-settled community where locals
recently hung effigies of President Clinton and Interior Secretary
Bruce Babbitt. There's a room at the Prospector's Inn, but only
after I track down one of the owners washing her truck out
She asks me if I'm here to see the
monument. "Well, take a look out the window," she says when I say
yes. "Everything you see is the monument except for this little
The woman says she doubts the monument
will lead to a boom in Escalante. But later, as she serves dinner
at the restaurant behind the hotel, she says hers is one of three
new hotels to open in town within the last three years. And someone
recently bought one of the original old, brick, two-story, Mormon
settlers' houses which abound in this town, intending to run a bed
Even here, in a settlement that
looks much as it did a century ago, change is in the
The next day, sitting in a cramped trailer
office at the Utah Forest Products mill south of Escalante, manager
Stephen Steed asks a
"How many people
stayed at your hotel last night?"
Just me and
one other, I say.
was probably our state forester who's down from Salt Lake for the
week," Steed says. "That means a traveling newspaperman and the
state forestry guy took care of the tourist industry in Escalante
last night. Try feeding that to your family."
Though Steed doesn't have much use for tourism, he's not mired in
the past. The fourth-generation logger and his father ran the mill
until it shut down here in 1993, and he learned from that
experience. The new mill is financed by outside money and is a
different animal. It is smaller, employing just 65, and it is more
efficient, producing a variety of goods, including milled lumber
"There's no waste,"
says Steed. "We even ship the chips to Las Vegas. They mix them
with fertilizer to make a landscaping mulch for all those
subdivisions in the desert."
stuff is what Garfield County commissioners have started to look
for. They recently hired a Salt Lake City-based consulting firm to
help its ranchers market "riparian-free, monument beef," says
consultant David Nimkin of Confluence Associates. Riparian-free, he
says, means cows stay out of streams.
sees local logging companies producing finished products, such as
furniture or floor boards. "There's a big market for softwood
floors in the Salt Lake City area, but most of the wood comes from
the southeastern United States," says Nimkin. "Why couldn't Utah
fir and pine fill that need?"
extends to the monument: Keep its 1.7 million acres rugged and
relatively roadless, and instead of fast-food jobs you'd need
guides and outfitters to lead dudes into the trackless interior,
says the planning consultant. The guides could even educate
visitors about the history and culture of the
"These towns are never
going to be gateway communities like Springdale (outside Zion
National Park)," says Nimkin. "But they could market the monument
as one of the last great, wild places, a place where you need a
local guide to show you the deep dark secrets."
Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt is paying attention. He has promised to help
Garfield and Kane counties plan for the changes that lie ahead.
Leavitt's planning director, Brad Barber, says the state is setting
up an economic development team that will help these communities
find money for new business ventures and the roads and services
"Where do we put
the lodges? Do we have building codes? What do we want our town to
look like? Do we want any old, ugly Motel 6 in town?," asks Barber.
"These are the questions these communities need to face now."
Before leaving Escalante, I stop at the
ranch of Garfield County commissioner Louise Liston. The scrappy
and articulate Escalante native is known as a staunch defender of
rural values. Yet she and her fifth-generation cattle-rancher
husband, Robert, have adapted to a new West: They've given up on
cattle and now raise ostriches.
trace their roots back to the Mormon pioneers who found a way
across the tortuous terrain from Escalante southeast across the
Colorado River. You can still travel The Hole-in-the-Rock route,
which lies in the new monument, on a teeth-rattling dirt
"When you know of the
sacrifices our pioneer ancestors made, you feel that it demands the
same type of sacrifice from you," Liston says.
She says her son-in-law next door worked at the old sawmill which
closed in 1993. He has yet to find a permanent job and that's been
tough on Liston's daughter and their six children.
"My daughter started working
at the Dairy Queen in Panguitch," she says. "Now she's driving 50
miles to work at Ruby's Inn. They sacrifice to stay in the valley.
You don't do that unless you love it."
tourism in Escalante could mean that Liston's daughter could work
closer to home, but that doesn't sit well, either. "It worries me
that we'll turn into Moab and have resorts," says Liston. "We'd
love to keep our farming community and our cowboy flavor. I believe
that's what draws the tourists."
is a study in contradictions: As a county leader, she has refused
to take monument planning money from a despised federal government,
yet she recently asked Congress for $2.9 million to help the county
cope with the monument. She would like the prosperity tourism could
bring, but despises tourism because she fears it will change her
quiet community forever.
The contrast between
Liston and Kane County Commissioner Joe Judd appears stark. Faced
with rapid change, one holds to the past while the other reaches
for the future. But as I head out Liston's door, she says, "You
know, the monument is here, and we need to make the best of it."
Can the communities surrounding the monument
grab hold of their destinies before they get overrun? Scott Groene,
who witnessed Moab's unchecked boom in the early 1990s, says wryly,
"Everyone says they don't want to be Moab, and yet they end up
doing everything they can to ensure that they will. Once the people
show up who only want to make money, it's all over."
But Brad Barber is optimistic; he sees "an
opportunity to create something great for southern Utah."
Pulling off Highway 12, I look out a seemingly
endless expanse of domed, knobbed and sculpted rock. Like a dark
and gleaming serpent, a narrow ribbon of road winds miraculously
through this desert. Beyond, the dark rising of the Henry
A canyon wall seems close enough to
touch. I pick up a stone and give it a good heave. It looks good
for awhile, riding high and strong, but then it slows and drops
straight down, like Wile E. Coyote, into the
In this country, getting from here to
there has never been easy.
Paul Larmer is HCN's associate editor.