Capitol Reef
Administrative History
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Post-Park Private Lands

The remaining few pieces of non-federal land within Capitol Reef National Park were private lands that were not purchased in the early 1960s or that were part of the1969 expansion. By the end of 1969, long-time Fruita resident Dewey Gifford had sold his house, barn, and 12.28 acres of land for $41,000. [57]

The next tract to be acquired was a former state section purchased outright by ranchers Rulen and Inez Morrell. This section (T26S R5E S36) was desirable because it was strategically placed between Upper and Lower Cathedral Valleys, encompassed the Caineville Wash/Baker Ranch/Fremont Junction road intersection, and included some spectacular monoliths, igneous dikes, and the Gypsum Sinkhole. The National Park feared that the Morrells would sell the land to development interests. [58]

The National Park Service's Utah Land Office initially offered to buy the Morrells' rights for $22,400. Rulen Morrell responded that his grazing interests made his land worth at least $200 an acre ($128,000 for the entire 640-acre section) but that he was willing to "get together on a price." [59]

In May 1972, the National Park Service sent Realty Specialist Lee Garrison to negotiate with the Morrells at their home in Fremont. Garrison reported, "We argued, bickered, and negotiated on every reason we could think of why they should sell to the Park for the appraised price of $22,400. Mr. Morrell is 64 years old and has had two heart attacks in the last six months, and we finally signed them up with a life's estate grazing use of the section." [60]

In the end, Garrison was pleased that he was able to get the Morrells to sell for the appraised value of $35 an acre. [61]

The Bird property and leases, the Sleeping Rainbow Ranch on Pleasant Creek, and a former state section purchased years before by Wonderland Stages were next on the list. Unfortunately, Capitol Reef National Park's enabling legislation had set a $423,000 ceiling on private land purchases -- not nearly enough to purchase all the private tracts. [62] Thus, all land deals were off until 1976, when Congress increased acquisition funds to $2,173,000. [63] The next year, the section owned by Wonderland Stages, a commercial tour guiding service operated by Salt Lake residents John and Stewart Campbell, was purchased for $275,000. This purchase enabled the National Park Service to acquire the historic Behunin cabin, the man-made waterfall, and the abandoned meander of the Fremont River near the eastern boundary. In 1978, Clair Bird's Capitol Reef Lodge and state land leases were acquired by condemnation of taking for almost $400,000. [64]

This left only two private parcels of land within the park: the Sleeping Rainbow Ranch owned by Lurton and Alice Knee, and a .42-acre tract, owned by descendants of Fruita pioneer Amasa E. Pierce, near the junction of Sulphur Creek and the Fremont River.

Sleeping Rainbow Ranch Purchase: 1974-1994

When Capitol Reef National Monument was expanded in 1969, approximately 300 acres owned by Lurton and Alice Knee at Pleasant Creek became an inholding. This area had been first settled by Ephraim K. Hanks and his family in 1882. They later built the first permanent house in what is now Capitol Reef National Park. After Ephraim's death, his wife Thisbee gained title to 160 acres through the Homestead Act in 1899. From 1916 to 1937, the Floral Ranch passed through several hands before being purchased by Ezra and Levi Bullard of Torrey. [65]

By 1940, the Bullards had wearied of the ranch's isolation, so they sold the Floral Ranch to Lurton Knee and his first wife, Margaret. Knee, who had worked with his brother-in-law Tom Goulding in Monument Valley, investigated the potential of starting his own tourist business near Capitol Reef National Monument. The Knees saw the Pleasant Creek location as perfect for starting a guest ranch and tour business patterned after the Goulding operation. Throughout the 1940s, the Knees struggled to survive by raising a few cows and pigs. (It was during this time that the dilapidated Hanks house on the north bank above Pleasant Creek was burned to the ground by Knee's ranch hand.) After the end of World War II, the Knees began to plan their tourist business, the Sleeping Rainbow Ranch. [66]

By the time the monument encompassed their land in 1969, the Knees had built a house, cabins, and a small, concrete block motel on a knoll overlooking horse corrals and fenced pastures. They had maintained an irrigation canal, spring and pump water system, and had constructed a power/telephone line through the Pleasant Creek Gorge to the west. The Knees' acreage was now up to the approximately 300 acres, with a lease on an adjoining state section, as well. [67]

Lurton Knee later recalled that he actively supported the expanded monument and later park boundary lines, fully aware that the boundary would make him an inholder. He stated in 1992, "I had to debate then on whether to enlarge, go on and make a larger guest ranch out of it or to sell it to the national park, because I knew then I became an in-holder." [68]

Because of the insufficient $423,000 initial cap placed on private land acquisitions in the 1971 legislation, acquisition of the entire Sleeping Rainbow Ranch had to be delayed. Meanwhile, 140 acres of the ranch were purchased for $300,000 in the fall of 1974. [69] When the acquisition ceiling was raised in 1976, the Knees realized that their chance to sell the rest of their property was at hand. They decided to sell their land to a church, thereby establishing a tax-free trust fund that would provide them with steady retirement income. The chosen church would then sell the land to the National Park Service. The other key provision of any deal would be that the Knees and their children would be granted life residency to a portion of the land. [70]

Around 1976, the Knees approached officials at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, with their proposal. The university, in consultation with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, determined that it could not meet all of Lurton Knee's stipulations. The Knees then revised their life estate requirement, dropping their children from the provision, and turned to the more flexible Seventh Day Adventist Church. [71]

In January 1978, earnest negotiations began between the National Park Service and Lurton and Alice Knee. Sherman W. Swenson, National Park Service Chief of the Division of Land Acquisition, spent a day with the Knees hammering out an initial deal. The Knees agreed to sell 235 acres, so long as they could retain 25 acres as a life estate. They would also retain rights-of-way for their spring and pump water system, root cellar, the power and telephone lines, and the rights to water and pasture necessary to keep three horses. Swenson reported, "It is my recommendation that we go along with their requirements. The price is okay. Our only alternative to this is condemnation, and in light of the present climate regarding our use of condemnation, I would recommend against it." [72]

By April 1978, the formalities of a purchase agreement had been worked out among the Knees, the Southern California Branch of The Seventh Day Adventist Church, and the National Park Service. The NPS would acquire the 235 acres for $450,000. In June 1978, an additional $17,805 were paid directly to the Knees for 11.87 acres of their life estate. [73]

Lurton Knee died in the early 1995. Currently, the area is used primarily for trailhead parking by hikers using Pleasant Creek trail, and by four-wheel drive and mountain bike enthusiasts passing by along the South Draw Road.

Archeological and historic surveys of the area have demonstrated the need to protect this impressive entrance to the Waterpocket Fold. The Knees' old guest ranch facility is now under consideration for use as a university-operated environmental education and research center. The area is also a potential location for future park housing or visitor facilities.

Tract 01-161, The Pierce/Tanner Land: 1980-1994

In one of the numerous small land transactions within Fruita prior to the National Park Service's arrival, a small parcel of land, only .42 acres, was somehow overlooked. This situation may have arisen from of the inaccurate, confusing manner in which the various individual orchard farms were identified. Another reason may be that the tract was located within the Fremont River floodplain immediately downstream from the junction of Sulphur Creek. Thus, either the spring run-off or the numerous flash floods descending the Fremont River or Sulphur Creek drainages would occasionally inundate this tiny piece of land. [74]

When the National Park Service began purchasing the private Fruita inholdings in the 1940s and 1960s, this small parcel was overlooked once again. It was not until the late 1970s or early 1980 that some National Park Service official realized that there was a gap between acquired lands. The National Park Service set out to find the last legal owner and his or her heirs of the property and then offer to purchase the land at its appraised value. [75]

By the end of 1980, the Sixth District Court in Wayne County had validated the National Park Service's findings that tract 01-161 had last belonged to Amasa E. Pierce, who died in 1933, and that there were 22 living heirs. [76] The next task for the National Park Service was to track down those heirs and have them either convey their interests in the land to one family member willing to sell, or come to some other consensus as to how the land was to be disposed. The appraised value of the .42 acres was calculated at $2,000. [77]

At first the closest living descendent, daughter Romania Pierce Tanner, countered with an offer to sell the land for $2,500. However, she was unable to get all the other heirs to agree to this. Then, some of the descendants of Amasa Pierce offered to sell the land to the National Park Service if half the amount could go to a park memorial to their grandparents. Superintendent Derek Hambly advised the family that the proposed transaction was against National Park Service policy. The heirs then suggested that an additional room at the visitor center or some kind of picnic shelter honoring all the Fruita pioneers might be possible. According to Pierce family spokesman Leah P. Johnson, this offer was also denied by park management. Accordingly, the heirs decided that they would simply take all the money and divide it among themselves. [78]

The National Park Service then offered to pay the $2,500 asked by Romania Tanner, but this was dropped "because 19 heirs could not agree on conveying their interest." [79] While the heirs were trying to reach an agreement, the Secretary of the Interior issued an order in early 1981 that stopped all land acquisition attempts until further notice. Thus, the sale of tract 01-161 was postponed indefinitely. [80]

There were no new developments on the tract for seven years. Then, in June 1988, two Pierce family descendants, Max and Blaine Tanner, went to Fruita to inquire about possible uses or sale of their land. By this time, failure to pay back taxes on the land (added to the Wayne County rolls upon its discovery in the early 1980s) had almost eliminated the Pierce descendants' claims. Four distantly related family members, including Max and Blaine Tanner, paid the required $450 in back taxes. While this payment kept the Pierce claim viable, at least all future negotiations would involve only those who had paid the taxes. [81]

During this June 1988 meeting, the Tanners told Chief Ranger Poe they wanted to put a cabin or camping trailer on the site for recreational use. Poe explained that this would be in violation of National Park Service policy. Poe also pointed out that since virtually the entire land was within the Fremont River's immediate floodplain, it would simply be easier for everyone if they would sell out. [82]

In June 1989, Max Tanner notified the National Park Service that the remaining owners of the Pierce property were now willing to sell for $6,000. Tanner dismissed the argument that the land was of little value because its location, and stated that it had great potential for development once minor problems of access were overcome. [83] This "minor" problem was the fact that the Tanners would have to get an easement over national park land from Utah 24 -- an easement that the National Park Service was not about to grant. Richard A. Young, Rocky Mountain Region Chief of the Land Resources Division wrote Tanner a curt response. Young stated flatly that the National Park Service was not willing to negotiate on its latest offer of $1,000, less than half what the land would have sold for in 1980.

Max Tanner responded that his family had decided to use the land as a vacation site and that they would be willing to pay for the necessary easement. [84] This offer was also summarily rejected, this time by Homer L. Rouse in the capacity of Acting Regional Director. [85]

As of March 1995, the status of Amasa Pierce descendant's property, tract 01-161, is not resolved. As long as the National Park Service is able to control access to the site, it can not be utilized for anything other than a walk along the river.

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Last Updated: 10-Dec-2002