Bates Wilson

a ranger in dress uniform stands in front of a wood carved map of Arches National Monument
Bates Wilson, Arches Superintendent from 1949 to 1972

NPS/Lloyd Pierson


When Bates Wilson accepted the position of custodian of Arches and Natural Bridges national monuments in 1949, very few people had ever heard of either place. Arches had no paved roads, campground, visitor center, nor designated trails. All of that changed during Wilson's tenure. By his retirement in 1972, Arches had doubled in size, become a national park, and was well on its way to being the world-famous tourism destination of today.

Back then, a park superintendent needed to be a "jack of all trades." On any given day, Wilson was just as likely to dig a water line ditch or winch a visitor's truck out of Courthouse Wash as he was to write a budget report or hobnob with upper management. These excerpts from his January 1950 Superintendent's Monthly Report provides a glimpse of a very different Arches:

"Inspite of heavy snowfalls on both approach roads 60 people visited the area in 21 cars representing 8 different states. Only 14 people were contacted. Ranger Worthington gave 7 illustrated talks on his own time...

A thorough investigation was made concerning the watering and crossing problems of Mr. James S. Westwood's cattle. His grazing permit expired last year and it is a little difficult to teach old cows new tricks without a fence. Our only solution to the problem, at present, has been to issue a crossing permit to water and enlist the cooperation of Mr. Westwood."

Bates Wilson is also known for his pivotal and tireless role in the establishment of Canyonlands National Park in 1964. In a 1967 interview, he recounts the journey from initial inspiration to the challenges of park management.

Last updated: April 3, 2019

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