Dinosaur's monumental quiet is threatened

  • The Mantles plan to develop land adjacent to Yampa River

    National Park Service
  • Dinosaurs art

    National Park Service, Richard Fish
 

Visitors to remote Dinosaur National Monument first marveled at the huge dinosaur bones exposed in its Utah quarry back in 1915. In the years that followed, other attributes surfaced. Rafters and hikers visiting the monument straddling the Utah/Colorado border discovered winding river canyons and quiet high desert.

But Dinosaur's serenity may not survive another year. A family that owns two inholdings in the monument wants to develop them for commercial activities.

In early July, owners of the Mantle Ranch received conditional use permits from Moffat County, Colo., to construct new facilities on 520 acres of private land in the monument's rugged Yampa Valley.

The Mantle family says it will build a 50-site campground, convenience store, restrooms, private aircraft landing strip and heliport on both its Castle Park and Red Rock Ranch properties. Planned additions not requiring permits include a residential subdivision, an all-terrain vehicle race track and exploratory oil and gas drilling.

"Dinosaur National Monument is one of the few places left in the United States that is noise- and light-pollution free," says Dave Cooper, who lives in the nearby county seat of Craig, Colo. "The peace and tranquillity of the Yampa Valley are at risk."

The National Park Service agrees.

Park Superintendent Dennis Huffman says his agency wants to buy the Mantle properties to protect their rich natural and cultural resources. Red Rock Ranch is located on a deer and antelope winter range, and the Castle Park site contains prime archaeological resources, according to the monument's land protection plan. Castle Park also occupies the river's only potential mid-point access within the monument for water-rescue launches.

Though both parcels of land are for sale, the agency has balked at the family's asking price, says Huffman. "There has been a wide gap between the appraised value and what the Mantles believe their property is worth," he says. More than one observer believes the Mantles' developed proposal is a form of blackmail designed to force the agency into paying them more for the property.

Tim Mantle, whose father established the ranch in 1919, charges that the Park Service has offered next to nothing for his lands. For more than 30 years, he says, the Park Service has harrassed his family with heavy-handed regulations and pressure to give up the land.

"They've forgotten who they work for," he says. "These bureaucrats have no right to torment a private citizen."

The family is currently suing the agency over livestock grazing rights at the monument. Park officials won't divulge the specifics of the case but say the dispute centers on Mantles' consistent non-compliance with the terms and conditions of their permit.

The monument's land protection plan, which notes that grazing has altered native plant communities, calls for "the systematic phasing out of grazing activities." Superintendent Huffman says the agency wants to accomplish that goal by purchasing the ranch inholdings, which act as the base properties for the federal grazing leases.

In the meantime, park officials say they will wait to see if the Mantles are serious about their development plans. Although the Park Service has no jurisdiction over private inholdings, Huffman says it can take legal action to protect monument resources, including condemnation of the land if necessary. But the agency can't consider that option, he says, until the Mantles construct something that harms the park.

"There is always a possibility that the Mantles' planning is just to get back at the Park Service," says Terry Doherty, parks and recreation director for Craig. "The only way to a happy ending is if these people come off their polarized views and sit down at a table to negotiate."

For more information, contact Dinosaur National Monument, 4545 Highway 40, Dinosaur, Colorado 81610-9724 (970/374-3000).

Diane Kelly is a former HCN intern.

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